Farmer Focus: Best sheep profit won’t pay for retirement

A margin of £163 a ewe and a loss of £500 a cow got people asking questions.

First, these are gross margins done by the University of Reading. Second, the sheep margin is our best – based on 527 commercials and 200 pedigree ewes – and the suckler cow figure is perhaps our worst to date.

Our average prime lamb price was £117, with 1.6 lambs sold a ewe. Add in 50 ram lambs at £404 apiece, 40 breeding gimmers at £287, and pedigree cull ewes at £179, and that gives an average lamb value of £138.

See also: Aginflation slows, but still outstrips rises in the cost of food

About the author

James and Belinda Kimber
Livestock Farmer Focus writers James and Belinda farm 850 commercial and pedigree sheep and 30 pedigree Simmental and Charolais cattle in Wiltshire across 95ha (45ha owned). James also runs a foottrimming business and Belinda has a B&B.
Read more articles by James and Belinda Kimber

We got away without buying fertiliser, got a good deal on 28t of creep at £275/t, and bought less soya as we scanned lower than the normal 200%. We had lower costs and 24% more output on the previous year. 

We stocked at six ewes to the acre, rotationally grazing high-sugar grass and clover reseeds. Mind, this includes 30t of creep.

We bought ewe lambs at £85-£90 in 2018 and four crops later culled them for £162. And because we had taken on land to run more commercial sheep, we culled nearly 40% of the pedigree flock this year, which boosted income.

Costs were £66 a ewe, including 100% of the quad bike costs, 75% of the straw, silage and tractor costs, and 80% of the reseeding costs.

Rent on 48ha (two thirds poor permanent pasture, 16ha of good reseeds) was £99/ha. Construction of the muck store and silage pit was split 50:50 between cattle and sheep.

The profit the sheep leave is not enough for my dream retirement to Barbados, but possibly enough to ask a therapist why I flog myself!

What made the cows look bad this year was some sub-standard semen that failed to get cows in-calf, adding a cost of 20 extra inseminations and oestrus synchronisation (at £15 a time).

The health scheme costs £80 a cow and we invest in biosecurity to keep wildlife out. We also spent £180 a head on creep. I’ve found less of a market for naturally done bulls compared with tups. 

Because I like clean cattle, I spend £32.40 a day on straw over a seven-month winter, but it’s paid for if it helps sell a bull or two. Plus, we only used one bottle of antibiotics on 40 cows and followers.