FARMER FOCUS: Study tour to NZ

The mild dry autumn we’ve been having is coming to the end, and winter is setting in. The last couple of weeks has seen the ground become saturated and even though there is still good grass cover, the cattle have been housed to prevent any damage.

The cattle have come through the summer well and hopefully this will continue thanks to the good-quality forage we’ve made. Our autumn-calving cows have all calved out without any difficulties and with calves full of vigour and looking well outside, it does make you think should we be calving everything out.

Our new North Country Cheviot ewes have been running with the ram for just over a week now. In a change of direction for us we have started a new flock of North Country Cheviot ewes on an outdoor lambing system as part of a forage-only system. We are using Aberfield rams supplied by Innovis, with some of the ewe lambs retained as replacements and surplus sold from home for breeding. This flock is situated more than 40 miles away, and with it staying there to lamb I’m sure it will also provide new challenges.

By the time you read this I will be travelling through New Zealand as part of the Hybu Cig Cymru scholarship scheme. I will be starting in Auckland and working my way south to Invercargill over five weeks, visiting sheep farmers to look at how they select their breeding sheep to reduce inputs on a grass-based system.

I am a firm believer there is much to be learnt from the Kiwis and their breeding techniques that will help the UK sheep industry move away from the traditional looks-only selection process and embrace new ideas.

Forage-based sheep production is the most cost-effective way of producing lamb, and more of an effort must be made to improve breeding to fit into this style of farming. The feed bag is not always the answer and the sooner our industry realises this the better. Hopefully my trip will provide me with plenty of new ideas that I can look at implementing at home and share with you next month. @tejoness

Tom Jones lives on a 110ha upland beef and sheep farm near Lake Vyrnwy, Montgomeryshire. He also has a contract shepherding business looking after ewes locally

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