Farmer Focus: Weights up despite challenging dry conditions

We are halfway through harvest at the time of writing. Oats did 6.1t/ha (2.4t/acre) (half was drilled in January, but had the better gross margin) and the wheat has done 7.44t/ha (3t/acre) so far and are just scraping biscuit specification.

We have some late-drilled wheat, the peas (the less said about those the better) and the malting barley to go. So far, I’d say we’re about 1t/ha (0.4t/acre) adrift of average.

See also: 5 top mistakes with cover crops and how to avoid them

We have drilled 40ha (90 acres) of berseem clover so far. The straw is being cleared off the next 80ha (198 acres) which is going into oats and berseem clover this week, hopefully ready for grazing in six weeks’ time.

We’ve had drought the past three spring/summers with little or no rain falling when our grass should be growing at its peak. We also regularly get spells with daytime temperatures reaching more than 30C.

We’re learning that the heat does more damage to grass growth than the lack of moisture and yet again the clovers, plantain and chicory have saved us – it’s all about that deep taproot. 

Silage did well though. We got about 19 round bales/ha (7.6 bales/acre). The paddock grazing has taken our lamb growth and ewe weights up a notch.

This year’s eight-week weights were where our weaning weights were last year, and at weaning all our ewes were about a condition score better than last year. Our growth rates to eight weeks were 286-420g/day, with group average weights for non-recorded ewe lambs of 19-28kg.  

One block of parkland ran out of grass just after the eight-week weights were taken. We should have weaned sooner as this mob’s average weights only increased about 3kg a head by weaning four weeks later.

We have started moving the sold breeding stock off farm to new homes. I can’t help but feel proud to see a tidy bunch of ewe lambs, now on our fifth generation of top-quality, home-bred stock, heading off to pastures new and see all our hard work and investment pay off.

Finally, in a strange turn of events, Rob has attended his first meeting of the Trade and Agriculture Commission – it’s got to be good for the sheep industry to have the only commodity representative on the board, so watch this space.

See Rob and Jo Hodgkins’ biography