Farmer Focus: Drought bites, but ewes are coping

As ever it has been a busy few weeks, but when is it not? Drought has well and truly bitten in our area. 

It has rained three times since the third week in March. Grass growth has been dire, but it is great to see the Romneys cope.

Ewe condition challenge

Sheep body condition score (BCS) has dropped (Liz Genever from AHDB would be disgusted), but lambs are still looking well and ewes are milking hard. However, as the milk is coming from their backs rather than grass it does mean I will have to come up with a plan to try to pile condition back on them.

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It will be a great test of the genetics to see how quickly we can get them to bounce back. Current thinking is they can have a worming dose and go and live under some of our solar panel grazing for a few weeks.

Although our “golden oldie” group of 10-year-old ewes may need some better ground to get ready for the cull market, I don’t think Jo will let me keep them another year. 

Fencing call pays off

One right decision (they are rare!) I did make was back in mid-April when we dug out all our fencing gear and split a lot of fields into smaller sections to put the ewes and lambs on rotation. That has eked out the grass and allowed recovery time.  

We have also decided to wean early this year at 80 days rather than our usual 100 to stop ewes and lambs competing for the same grass. Farming is always a challenge.

Performance recording begins

This is our first year performance recording ewes. We recorded 200 two tooths and 150 ewe lambs and we are looking forward to bringing our new toy – the auto-drafter – out to weigh weaning weights on both lambs and ewes.

With the weather as it is I hope this will be a nice low benchmark so I can look lots better in the following year. The plan is to close the flock completely and source all replacements from within our own ranks.   

If anyone knows a good rain dance – please let me know. At the moment we will give anything a shot.

Rob and Jo Hodgkins, Hertfordshire, produce lambs for Tesco and breeding sheep through Kaiapoi Romneys on 330ha of grazing licenses. Farming without subsidy means sheep must be functional, lamb outdoors and produce lambs on forage alone.