Farmer Focus: Was this the right summer to add 1,000 ewes?

After a few articles moaning about the non-stop rain I now find myself quietly asking the weather gods if it could shower a little on us.

Things have dried up pretty badly, although the stock still look well and seemed to shear very well. Mark the shearer commented on what exceptional condition our lambed ewe-lambs are in.

They are all part of the Challenge Sheep programme run by AHDB Beef and Lamb, so naturally my competitive streak has appeared and I am determined to give them the best possible chance as we will be judged against some exceptional shepherds. Weighing is next week so I will let you know the results.

See also: 7-step guide to planting brassica crops

Cost of production

After another meeting with HSBC we are growing the flock by another 1,000 ewes. I don’t want to sound like an advert but to support an expansion from 200 ewes in 2014 to 2,200 ewes this year and 1,500 acres of arable (nothing in 2014) they really have supported us every step of the way.

All prime lambs will go straight into the Tesco cost of production (COP) scheme. It will move us from being significantly understocked to maximum levels.

Our forecasts show our COP lamb cost should be around £60-65 next year with the efficiency increases we can get from a larger number.

Tesco is paying significantly more than this so in my mind it’s a calculated move that carries minimum risk.

Payment nightmares

To cope with the increase and to try and reduce blackgrass pressure we will be reverting some arable back into grass leys under countryside stewardship.

This year we will be putting our fifth scheme in, and, although it’s a great programme, the problems we are having getting money paid out on time have been pretty shocking. We’ve had a few sleepless nights as outstanding monies have pushed the overdraft higher and nearer its limit.

Natural England came through in the end so that problem is sorted. However, operating at maximum stocking rate does scare me a little, especially in a season like this.

If any readers have large blocks of arable/grassland in the Hertfordshire area, please do get in touch. And any shepherd looking for a challenging role please make yourself known!