How share-farming sheep venture is aiming for low-cost system

A large-scale sheep enterprise has identified key performance indicators (KPIs) it can improve to lift flock performance and profit.

Rhys Williams is a partner in a sheep production joint venture at Coed Coch, Abergele, running 3,000 New Zealand Romney ewes on 315ha with farm owner Harry Fetherstonhaugh and shepherd Emyr Jones.

The share-farming agreement was facilitated by Farming Connect’s Venture programme.

See also: Good sheep handling: Why it matters and how to improve it

The business model centres on low-cost production and an outdoor lambing flock.

Improving nutrition and soil

Mr Williams’ role is to give the strategic business and administrative direction and one of his approaches is to set targets for number of lambs and kilogrammes of lamb reared a hectare, as well as lamb daily liveweight gain.

“We are only in our third year and still developing our flock through robust selection and, more importantly, by improving soil fertility.

“We are not where we need to be yet, but setting targets provides a strategic focus for the business.”

Rearing percentage is currently 120%, but Mr Williams’ target is 150%. Lamb daily liveweight gain from birth to weaning is currently 250g a day, a figure he believes can be significantly improved through better nutrition.

“Monitoring progress towards those targets is vital – you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” he adds.

Cost of production

At £62 a ewe, Mr Williams admits cost of production is at best average compared with the New Zealand systems he aspires to replicate, but by keeping fixed costs low, increasing flock performance and making best use of grass, he is confident this can be reduced.

“Once we have the correct type of ewe for our system, we can only improve 10% further with genetics, the rest is down to us and how we manage the flock and the grassland.”

Labour, buildings, machinery and purchased feed were identified as the main costs.

Mr Williams set about minimising these, switching to outdoor lambing, which means sheds are only needed for shearing and wool storage.

Machinery ownership was cut to a single utility vehicle, with local contractors used.

“For the volume of work that we need doing, owning large machinery is unviable.”

Feed cost and quality

Nutrition accounts for 80% of lamb performance, so their aim is to produce the best-quality feed at the lowest possible cost.

Mr Williams also farms 60ha on his family farm on the Llŷn Peninsula, where he rears 1,200 replacement ewe lambs on a cell grazing rotational system – the change to a rotational grazing system has allowed him to increase stocking rate by one-third without increasing inputs.

Due to its scale, he visually estimates growth at Coed Coch once a month and uses computer software to compare feed availability and predict future availability with feed demand, using the data to plan a feed budget.