Summer grass keeps topper busy at Tregeiriog Farm

In early summer, Aled Jones had to keep moving sheep to ensure they had enough grass, but now the problem is managing the amount available.

“I cannot remember an August when we have had so much and the topper has been so busy. But while lambs have grown well, they are not finishing as fast as usual. Some have got dirty and we have had about a dozen cases of blowfly strike.”

This has meant a lot of extra tail cleaning and putting sheep through the shower. “We used an organophosphorous chemical, which is brilliant for controlling blowfly.”

He did consider whether to invite a neighbour to take a hay cut from some fields, where the sward was too long for sheep, in return for a dressing of a P and K compound to replace the nutrients removed.

“The sheep were wasting some grass, but under our deferred grazing system it is cheaper to buy in the 3-4t of hay we use over winter than it would be to pay a contractor to make some for our own use.”

Instead a topper belonging to the farm’s owner Rupert Greenwell and one Mr Jones bought recently for £1300 were pressed into service on several parcels, including a block that will probably remain closed until it is grazed from December.

“That assumes we have enough good grass to flush the ewes before tupping at the end of October, which should be the case, as all lambs have been weaned and the ewes are now on rough grazing.”

Despite using no fertiliser, there is plenty of good grass and Mr Jones has been struck by the high percentage in the swards this season. Less welcome has been the extent of creeping thistle infestation on some areas where wet weather prevented topping at the optimum time.

There was a “decent trade” when the first 2008-born lambs made £56.50 a head. Base price was 275p/kg deadweight or 15p/kg up on the quoted price the previous week.

Mr Jones’ last draft of 40 lambs went to Welsh Country Foods on Anglesey, with 560 others from about a dozen friends and neighbours. They are keen on developing a marketing group. “The group of us have the potential to market about 10,000 lambs a year and are talking to WCF and Dunbia about developing a relationship and agreeing a minimum price in advance. In return the firm would get supply continuity and lambs that meet tight carcass specifications.”

While grazing pressure is light Mr Jones is monitoring store lamb prices and could decide to give another farmer the chance to buy slower finishing Mule lambs. At least 100 of the 270 Inverdale Texel-cross ewe lambs produced on contract for breeding company Inovis hit the 34kg target weight by early August. But Mr Jones is still waiting to hear when they will leave the farm. He will receive £48 a head for them.

“Fortunately, we are not short of keep, but another season I would like to see some moved as soon as they weigh 34kg.”

A head count showed he has 220 Mule ewe lambs to sell. Bluetongue restrictions mean his regular buyer cannot take them until he has sold the yearlings reared from the ewe lambs bought from Mr Jones in 2007.

“The whole bluetongue thing is a shambles and we have decided not to try to sell six Bluefaced Leicester tups from our tiny six-ewe flock at the NSA’s Builth Wells sale. The sooner the whole country can vaccinate the better. I have spoken to our vet and hope to be able to vaccinate from early September, though the peak time for midges will be over then.”

But Mr Jones and his partner Jane have decided that movement rules will not prevent them showing some of their Bluefaces at two local shows.

“They will come straight out of the field and the only work involved is a bit of trimming. We get tremendous fun showing sheep in their working clothes and not pumped up as they are at the big shows. The rivalry and banter with like-minded breeders makes local showing a real social event.”

The farm’s wool sacks have been collected, but Mr Jones has yet to hear how big the cheque will be and is still to receive a bill from the shearing contractors.

He is ready to place an advanced order for 20t of feed blocks for next winter, with an option to take up to another 10t at the same price.

“Looking around the farm now it is easy to forget that on land well over 1000ft above sea level, autumn could be just around the corner.”

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