Farmers Weekly Awards 2016: Sheep Farmer of the Year

Gordon Wyeth

Maple Farm, Hampshire

It hasn’t been a simple journey for Gordon Wyeth, who has built up a farming business overseeing the management of 9,500 sheep against the odds.

© Hugh Nutt

© Hugh Nutt

He started with a schoolboy hobby flock and slowly built numbers alongside a contract clipping run taking in much of southern England and parts of Scandinavia and now runs a flock of 7,500 ewes, contract shepherding the rest.

About 10 years ago he made the move into low-input New Zealand Romney genetics. After fine-tuning winter forage crops and summer grazing he can now boast one of the most efficient, low-cost lamb production systems around.

See also: 2016 Farmers Weekly Awards: Sheep Farmer finalists revealed

 He has had to build up grazing largely from tenancy and rental agreements and has had a mass flock cull (Border disease) and the “worst dog attack” in UK sheep farming to contend with along the way.

Farm facts

  • 9,500 New Zealand Romneys – 2,000 shepherded on contract
  • 1,011ha, of which 850ha is on grazing licences
  • Breeding stock 1,500 shearling and 1,000 ewe lambs
  • Markets 5,000 fat lambs to ABP most grading at R4L
  • 700 Shetland-cross store lambs
  • 230 goats

A comprehensive flock health plan formulated with Endell Veterinary Group comprises almost 40 holding numbers.

Grazing licenses extend to 850ha (2,100 acres), with a farm business tenancy on 101ha (250acres) and only 40ha (150acres) owned, with all land farmed requiring more than 60 miles of electric fencing.

Through steady expansion Gordon has been ably supported by wife Glenys and mother Jennifer and employs four full-time workers, including son Jack.

An ability to develop and enthuse staff has allowed the core business to flourish while new enterprises continue to complement the business.

Diversifications include a recent straw and hay enterprise, a goat grazing sideline and selling 1,500 breeding shearling and 1,000 ewe lambs last year.

Opportunities have grown, in part, due to Gordon’s mantra; “find the worker, then find the work”.

This approach brought in £150,000 to the business in hay revenue from the 2015 crop.

“Staff are trained to do their job as individuals and must be able to show initiative,” stresses Gordon, who has a morning meeting and a rough plan each day to share tasks.

Winning ways

  • Excellent fertility and maternal ability of ewes
  • Grassland management spawns extra income stream
  • An ability to find and nurture passionate staff

“They work the long hours when needed, know what they’re doing and never let us down.”

Gordon’s Romney flock manages a barren rate of 1% at 100 ewes to each ram, rearing at 155% after scanning about 170% in an entirely outdoor system.

Gross margin is on course this year at £72 a ewe – ahead of the £55 a ewe AHDB average.

Some ewe lambs are put to a Shetland for lambing ease meaning they earn the farm £190, including £140 a piece as breeding stock.

Mammoth feed savings of about £25,000 have come from growing turnips, while switching to shearing twice a year has improved wool production and ewe body condition at mating.

Ewes produce 4.5kg of wool and lambs 1.1kg at weaning. Irish company Texacloth operates a depot at the farm, bringing in another small income steam to the business.

With so many new and developing diversifications to the business, including a goat-grazing enterprise, its difficult to tell what the future holds for Gordon’s expanding business and young dedicated team.

What appears certain is that profitability and an open minded approach to new ideas will continue to be key ingredients in a recipe for success.

Sponsor’s view

Greencoat Farm logo“Exceptional stock management, animal husbandry, and a great team enables Gordon to run a very large flock on several different properties.

“Effective cost management ensures his business realises a good net profit year on year”

Mike Stanyon, senior sales manager, Greencoat Farm