27 November 1998

Sheep production costs must be low

By James Garner

LOWERING costs of sheep production through management and animal selection will help ensure youre still in business in the next millennium.

Speaking at an MLC/National Sheep Association conference in Exeter Peter Raymond, Braytown Farm, Brayford, Devon, said reducing production costs meant higher returns and less hassle.

"Seven years ago I adopted this strategy. It may be slightly different for me because as an upland farmer I rely more on subsidies, but the principles are the same for all."

Mr Raymond farms 100ha (250 acres) of HLCA and ESA registered land with 400 April/May lambing Beulah and Beulah x Texel ewes and 40 Limousin suckler cows.

Taking figures from Exeter Universitys costing service to back-up his claims of higher profits from low-cost production, Mr Raymond said his net profit for each £100/output was £43 in 1996/7, while the average Exeter University costed producer made only £23.

"We must adjust to low prices and produce what the market wants, which is lean lambs rather than good conformation. We have to use tools such as Estimated Breeding Values to help us breed easy-care ewes which will lower lamb production costs."

However, pursuit of high lamb numbers was not the answer, said Mr Raymond, who lambs all his ewes himself. "I want ewes that can lamb outdoors without assistance and rear lambs without help.

"We should consider other qualities when selecting breeding stock, such as promoting lamb vigour and warm birth coats meaning lambs born outside are better equipped to survive."

Mr Raymond assists only 4% of ewes at lambing, partly because of feed management of single-bearing ewes. "They are kept tight to ensure they dont get too fat on spring grass, while twin-bearing ewes have a high energy liquid feed to prevent calcium deficiency. I dont feed any concentrates."

By maintaining a self-contained flock and rotationally grazing, Mr Raymond keeps vet and med bills low. "I worm once a year for lungworm in the autumn, because I rotate grazing and breed worm resistant stock. Thats why I use a Texel ram, which has worm resistance, on some Beulah ewes."

Sheep follow cattle into paddocks which are then conserved every third year. "This clean grazing policy gives lamb growth rates a tremendous boost and reduces costs and workload." &#42


&#8226 Breed easy-care ewes.

&#8226 Avoid fat ewes at lambing.

&#8226 Rotate grazing to save wormer.