6 November 1998

Why Sussex college is going for a rapid flock expansion

RAPID expansion is a key requirement for West Sussex College of Agriculture, but achieving that came under close scrutiny at the NSAs south east AGM.

Currently there are 350 breeding ewes, of which 100 are Lleyn ewes, the rest being Lleyn cross Texel ewes. They are put to Charollais and Texel rams lambing from February to March. The college also has a 100 cow dairy herd, 86ha (212 acres) of arable, 84ha (207 acres) of grass, a 100-sow pig unit and 12 beef steers.

Planned expansion

Talking to delegates, the colleges farm adviser Peter Knight, explained that it planned to expand the sheep flock to 700 ewes, including the Lleyns, lambing indoors.

Explaining why these decisions have been made, Mr Knight said that as two-thirds of the land was not IACS registered, arable crops on poor land were less competitive.

"We cant grow bumper corn crops on Sussex Weald Clay. Therefore we plan to make it an all forage farm, increasing sheep numbers. We also want to take advantage of the current dip in price of breeding ewes.

"Changing to an all-forage farm would improve grazing, allowing rotation between new seeds and silage ground.

"Looking ahead, it seems that Agenda 2000 will leave sheep unaffected, which is also positive. But re-organising the unit is not easy because it has to balance commercial and educational interests.

"Our financial and physical performance figures have been okay. Last year our gross margin was £34.67, selling 1.6 lambs/ewe."

Positive reaction

Mr Knight reacted positively to comments from MLC sheep scientist Jenny Anderson that a closed flock would be a good objective. But he also pointed out the difficulties this would incur.

"I take on board Dr Andersons suggestions and agree this would be the best solution in an ideal world," said Mr Knight.

"However we need to expand quickly and how do you do this with a closed flock? Also, Im not sure about running a Lleyn based flock."

"I am not anti Lleyn ewes, but I feel more comfortable with Mules because thats what Im used to, and I can buy one and half of them for a Lleyn at the moment."

Other factors

"There are other factors affecting decisions, and I may wish to finish pigs in deep straw littered yards where the sheep are housed at the moment, which means less housing space for the ewes.

"We bought 50 Mule shearlings this year, and to make most of lower values we also bought 200 ewe lambs to run till next summer, but they wont be lambed. This is a policy we might continue for the next few years to help cashflow and use the extra forage acres."