Advice on starting up a sheep farm

Sheep farming offers one of the easiest entries into agriculture for new starters, with start-up costs being much lower compared to other sectors.

Speaking at the Livestock Event’s seminar Taking the first steps into sheep farming, sheep farmer Gillian Preece said starting out in sheep farming was achievable, but warned there still weren’t enough opportunities for people starting out.

“There are still not a lot of opportunities out there. One of the biggest hurdles is finding a tenancy,” she explained.

Mrs Preece started sheep farming with her husband Philip six years ago, after renting 73ha near their home in Shropshire and they now run a flock of 650 pure Romney and Romney cross Texel breeding ewes on a 113ha upland farm in Mid Wales.

She said breed choice has been key to their success and advised new entrants to select their flock carefully.

“Our aim and objective was to produce a very cost efficient and self-efficient ewe, so we could continue working while establishing the breeding flock.”

At first she said farmers had been weary of buying the breed at market, because they didn’t recognise the breed.

She said newcomers shouldn’t be put off doing something different, but warned they must keep a focus on their customer.

Meanwhile Nerys Wright, an ADAS consultant, said planning finances was vital for any new entrant.

“First you will need to calculate how much you are going to need over a certain period.

“Look at long-term objectives – four to five years ahead.”

Ms Wright encouraged new starters to shop around for the best base rate and payback opportunities.

“You don’t want to be paying back your loan by increasing your overdraft.”

Zero percentage credit cards offer a good opportunity to keep borrowing down, added Mrs Preece.

“That way you don’t incur big charges on interest and balance transfers.”

Ms Wright said cashflow was king and things like pregnancy scanning and recording lamb losses could help factor cashflow.

“Lamb sales are very seasonal and you will be incurring costs for next year buying replacements and tups, so look at your peak borrowing and always plan ahead.”

Top tips when applying for a tenancy

  • Scour the local press and ask around for tenant opportunities
  • Put together a plan that is linked to the land and buildings available
  • Assess the landlords objectives carefully. Then you can make sure you say the right things in your application
  • What rent should you pitch? Look at what the house would achieve on the open market and assess what is an achievable amount for the land, not forgetting to calculate in a reasonable profit for yourself
  • Sell yourself, focusing on your strengths

More on this topic

Read more news from Livestock 2012

See more