Shepherd Graeme Wood has sold 1.78 lambs a ewe so far against a budget of 1.7, which should leave a profit of just over £6,700 across the enterprise if the remaining lambs average £70 a head.
With the latest batch sold through Barnard Castle Market last week making just over £76 a head, this is a realistic target. The farm also sells through Darlington Farmers Auction Mart, including some sales that are made on a liveweight basis but where the lambs go straight for slaughter.
“That way, we know the price in advance on the Friday and if we’re happy with it we can take the lambs in on the following Monday,” says Mr Wood.
All lambs sold so far this season have averaged £71.42 a head, with a kind spring and a good, grassy summer keeping spending on ewe and lamb feed at about £5,400 less than budgeted.
There are 480 lambs left to sell and the final 300 will be finished with home-grown whole oats, supplemented with molasses – everything else has finished or will finish off grass.
“If store lamb prices stay where they are, we might sell them sooner as stores and save a bit more on feed costs,” says Mr Wood.
The flock has expanded from 800 Mule ewes four years ago to the current 1,250 head. Employer Adam Metcalfe happily admits to being more of an arable and machinery man than a sheep man, leaving the sheep management to Mr Wood, who also buys the replacements at a rate of about 27%.
“All replacements have been bought privately from the same farm near Stokesley for the past four years to keep the disease risk down,” says Mr Wood. “We like to keep a youngish flock to keep productivity up.”
This year a total of 345 shearlings were bought in at £137 a head, 285 as replacements and a further 60 to allow the flock to expand again.
Nine new Charollais tups were also bought at £650 each from Kelso ram sales. Mr Wood previously worked for a butcher and this experience has led him to prefer the Charollais for the length the breed gives to the carcass and for their ability to produce good chops with a big eye.
The aim is for a 40-43kg lamb that suits the customers at the two markets and gives a reasonable return in a decent year. Cull ewes are sold through the same two markets as the lambs and have averaged £69, with about 80 left to sell. Both the sheep and suckler cow enterprises are FABBL assured.
There have been no major policy changes in the sheep enterprise this year, although Footvax has been used for the first time and with great success, reports Mr Wood. The 72p-a-head cost was achieved because it was a short-dated batch. Ewes are also routinely treated against enzootic abortion and toxoplasma abortion.
The sheep are important to the business not only because of their profit contribution but also because the flock fits with the overall management objectives of maximising all the resources on the farms that Mr Metcalfe runs.
Although the flock is managed as one, it is running on four holdings that are farmed on contract farming agreements. Most of the sheep ground is permanent pasture but there are some leys.
Lambing is indoors, starting on 1 March and lasting a month. The ewes get big-bale haylage and fodder beet from tupping. Then six or seven weeks out from lambing, they get 500g a head of cake plus fodder beet. “We only use haylage rather than hay for the ewes; you can guarantee a better quality product than with hay,” says Mr Wood.
The haylage is part of a larger crop of about 1,000 big bales and 1,000 mini bales sold away from the farm, mainly into the horse trade. This is a growing enterprise also selling small-bale hay and straw. AWSM Farms expects to sell 1,000 small straw bales and 4,000 small hay bales this season, either delivered or for collection – manager Andrew Yarrow is keen to ensure deliveries are cost effective and prices them accordingly.
The fodder beet, also mainly for sale off the farm, has been a record crop, producing 2,100t off 23ha (57 acres), an average of 91.4t/ha (37t/acre), although this year there is a lot of competition in this market from stockfeed potatoes.
Since our last visit a new livestock enterprise has begun, with 1,700 bed-and-breakfast pigs on straw in cattle sheds at the most recent contract-farmed unit at Middleton Tyas. Each batch stays for 25 weeks until finished, with accommodation, straw and labour provided by the farm for a set fee.
The new wagon’s colourful livery has been the subject of many compliments at grain intakes, says driver Garry Thorogood. Adam Metcalfe hopes it will be useful in promoting all aspects of the business – farming, recycling and contracting.
“We couldn’t fill the sheds with cattle, it makes good use of the space and we get the muck, which we really need to build organic matter in the soils,” says Mr Metcalfe.
AWSM Farms and its associated contracting and compost ventures are a complicated set of business, operating across many holdings, so Mr Metcalfe and Mr Yarrow are constantly questioning what they are doing and where the business is heading.
To get an independent review and opinion of this, they employ consultant Hamish Bichan one day a month, but speak with him on a more frequent basis. “We can convince each other something is a good idea, but it’s really useful to have another opinion to help develop the business,” says Mr Yarrow.
This might include negotiating with banks, for example, or assessing a new business opportunity.
The pigs are not the only new venture since Farmers Weekly‘s last visit. The farm is now running its own heavy goods wagon. The secondhand tractor unit set the business back £26,500 and the trailer £16,250. “It’s not so much a question of making money on the haulage but of having more control over what happens with grain deliveries,” says Mr Metcalfe.
“Sometimes the first thing you know about a claim is when you get the cheque. This way, if you’ve got your own driver at intake and there’s a query over quality, you can demand a retest and you’ve got someone on site to check it for you.”
The wagon will help at harvest, too, when an HGV is usually hired for several weeks to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and make more sense of leading grain from off-lying contract-farmed land.