Brakes Farm, Downton, Ludlow, Shropshire
It started with a flock of 600 north country mules. “I got my first job without any practical experience, agricultural qualifications or referees,” says Nick Davies. “It shows determination really does pay.”
That iron will lead the 29-year Nick to land the prestigious job of head shepherd at Brakes Farm, Downton Castle, Shropshire. With the job comes responsibility for Downton Estate’s 3000-Mule ewe flock. “It’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle,” says Nick. “Sheep are a 24/7 commitment and without the determination, it won’t succeed.”
It may be a lifestyle but Nick is resolved to make the sheep enterprise as profitable as possible. “I’ve full control of buying and selling including running the budget. The sheep are the estate’s lawn-mowers but they have to make a profit.”
He aims to market as many lambs as possible from grass. Nearly 3,000 Hexham type Mule ewes are put to Suffolk and Texel rams. The rams are first put to 1200 ewes on October 1 for two cycles and again to the remainder on November 5th for two cycles.
“The lambing percentage is never below 1.5 and never above 1.65. My optimum would be 1.7 lambs sold,” says Nick.
Support payments make a significant contribution to the unit’s revenue but Nick is determined not to rely on them. “ELS and HLS payments help to improve on what we are doing, but we should never depend on the money they generate to support the business.”
Cost control plays a vital role. All the farm’s grassland is permanent pasture and in the entry level scheme so little fertiliser is used.
Mineral costs have also been cut supported by blood tests, forage and soil analysis. But, according to an independent assessment, diet supplementation is essential because the farm’s soils are deficient in selenium, cobalt and available copper. “We have cut mineral costs to 18p a lamb and can probably cut it again – although, the rising cost of cereals is likely to increase feed costs.”
Sheep breed could also influence cost saving, says Nick. “Texel lambs don’t need copper unlike the Suffolks which do depend on copper.”
Just as important as minimising cost is maximising output.
“Finding the right market for our prime stock year round is vitally important,” he says. 1,200 ewe lambs are sold privately and through local markets with about 5% of prime lambs going to a local restaurant and 2,000 store lambs are sold privately.
The estate’s shoot has significant impact on flock management. “It’s one of the top five shoots in the country and the sheep are managed to fit around the shoot’s needs.” Cover crops such as kale, sown for game, provide forage for the sheep after the shooting season ends.
Thanks to the support of assistant shepherd Anthony Watts, Nick is able to take part in a full range of technical briefings, meetings and conferences. “There’s not a month without a meeting on this farm or a visit to another farm or conference. Hosting visits is a great way of learning new aspects of the business and helps to promote the estate’s flock,” says Nick.
The youngest person ever to sit on the executive board of the National Sheep Association, he sees his role as a bridge between farmers, industry and the public. “I’ve put together meetings to bring sheep producers and feed and pharmaceutical companies as well as the public and schools. We all have common ground and need each other to work together to keep our industry sustainable and dynamic.”
Despite the meetings, it’s managing high quality stock that gives Nick the greatest pleasure: “My pride and joy is running a flock and the knowledge that we have quality stock that look well cared for and in a good year are making money.”
WHAT IMPRESSED THE JUDGES
Nick is an inspiring young farmer who is totally dedicated to making the most of the flock within his care, concluded the judges. He is a highly accomplished enterprise manager who knows how to manage a team and is passionately committed to running a high welfare, profitable sheep business.
Read how the judges thought Nick’s approach to sheep production could benefit other producers by visiting fwi.co.uk
|NAME: Nick Davies|
FARMED AREA: Head shepherd Brakes Farm, Downton Estate, Downton Castle, Ludlow, Shropshire FARM SIZE: 1000 acres forming part of a 3500-acre estate FARM TYPE: Sheep LAMBING INDEX: Between 1.5 and 1.65
STOCK: 3000 ewes STAFF: Assistant shepherd 165% of lambs sold at an average price of £45