Farmer Focus: Sheep dairying close to production

With the drought continuing to cause havoc in our part of the world, all of our projects seem to be clashing. It’s come suddenly.

The sheep dairy is installed and every morning before corn carting, we are up pushing belligerent ewes through the parlour trying to teach them how it all works.

With a bit of luck, Taylor IMS will have signed off the parlour by the time this goes to press, so that means we can start collecting milk, which after many months of effort will be most welcome.  

About the author

Rob and Jo Hodgkins
Livestock Farmer Focus writer
Rob and Jo Hodgkins run 2,300 ewes across 210ha of grass and have 566ha of arable in Hertfordshire, producing lambs for Tesco and breeding sheep through Kaiapoi Romneys. Subsidy-free sheep farming means ewes must be functional, lamb outdoors and produce lambs on forage alone.
Read more articles by Rob and Jo Hodgkins

See also: How a resilient sheep dairy farm overcame multiple setbacks

Unfortunately, the weather has also meant harvest has come very early for us. Trying to balance myself between dairy and arable sides is becoming increasingly hard.

If all that wasn’t enough, we are weaning 20 days early, at about 80 days, on the commercial sheep because of a severe lack of grass so the ewes can recover.

Getting ewe lambs to a 40kg tupping weight will be a struggle. Fattening lambs will just have to hang around on not much until it rains, or our cover crops start appearing.

Everywhere we look there is a job to do, but with so many things happening I hope the second half of August will be a nice, quiet period to try to recover.

On the positive side, crop yields are better than expected. We had dire thoughts of another 2018-style disaster, but the wet spring seems to have carried the crops through.

Obviously, yields are down, but we have adjusted our cashflow in line with what the combine has told us.  

While sat on the combine, I am busy phoning our ewe lamb customers, trying to get them to pick up stock early as our lamb growth rates have slowed dramatically.

It would be good to sell some sheep and reduce stocking rates from the farm to lower dry matter cover to ensure we have enough food to put condition back on the ewes.

In the past we have made the mistake of prioritising lambs and letting ewes lose too much condition, resulting in a poor scanning result.

But with harvest so early, we can establish cover crops earlier too, so we should have a good wedge of winter food if we get some late-summer rain.