24 August 2001

Thinking out logistics of staying put

MANY Welsh hill producers who have previously been dependent on away wintering ewes, are having to rethink wintering strategies, as foot-and-mouth repercussions limit their options.

In the past, Ceiriog Jones of Cilgoed Farm, near Corwen, Denbighshire, has relied heavily on away wintering. Now he is calculating the true winter stock carrying capacity of the farm.

Because Mr Jones believes there will be good demand for breeding stock in 2002, he would like to keep all 248 of ewe lambs sheared this year.

Long fodder conservation has gone better than on many upland farms and he hopes to take a late silage cut from 7ha (18 acres). But supplies could be tight supposing winter is long. To keep ewe lambs growing they will be carried empty.

Almost 200 older sheep were cleared out in early June and plans to replace these are on hold, which will mean fewer pregnant sheep to feed at home over winter.

Afraid to ring

Derek Morgan, chairman of the Farmers Union Of Waless hill farming and marginal land committee, says many flockmasters are afraid to ring producers who normally take their sheep.

"I am one of them. My ewe hoggs did not come back until June and that may end a long standing arrangement to winter 170 replacements on a Cardiganshire farm. We were already reducing flock size to improve ewe performance and culled others on welfare grounds when we could not access the common. This means we should be able to cope."

But he knows of many producers who will have insufficient fodder to be able to keep replacements, unsaleable breeding ewes and lambs.

"Because farmers are not getting together, the enormity of the likely problem is being hidden. Where extra sheep are wintered, they will have to be fed and will over graze limited in-bye land, which will mean less grass for ewes and lambs next spring.

"I have a feeling that many ewes and ewe lambs will have to go on the welfare scheme, including those belonging to hill men who saw their last crop of replacements slaughtered on away wintering farms."