NSA opening doors to public in regional sheep events

NSA’s Northern, Welsh and South West regions are all opening their doors this summer with local sheep events being staged across the UK.

The first, Welsh Sheep, is being held at Graig Farm, Cross Ash, Abergavenny on Wednesday, 23 May by kind permission of Nigel and Bev Turner. Following hotly on its heels will be what is expected to be the largest of the three, North Sheep, which will take place at the Skidmoor family’s North Hanging Wells Farm in Weardale on 6 June.

South West Sheep is a week later on 12 June and will be hosted by Garth and Sue Martyn at their 142ha (350-acre) Hornacott Barton Farm, Boyton, Launceston.

All three events will offer farmers a wealth of opportunity to improve their businesses and share technical and political knowledge with leading industry figures and farmers from across the UK.

With a range of seminars on offer, there is sure to be plenty of opportunity for debate and discussion of the key topics, particularly at North Sheep where Farmers Weekly is partnering the NSA Northern Region in offering a seminar programme with subjects ranging from export opportunities to climate change.

  • 9am Export opportunities: Breakfast briefing. Henry Lewis, BLG chairman and Wes Bluhm, IATC
  • 11am Making the most of genetics. Chair, Malcolm Corbett, NFU livestock board. Exploiting genetic potential – how far can we go? Prof Geoff Simm, SAC. Easy care traits – selecting for the future. John Vipond, SAC. The farmers view: Malcolm Stewart, Borders farmer
  • 12pm The Future of Sheep Marketing – Question Time. Chair, Peter Morris, NSA chief executive. Stephen Aitken, Darlington Auction Mart. Stephen Kirkup, Independent procurer. Norman Bagley, AIMS. Jonathan Birnie, Dunbia
  • 1pm Countryside Management. Chair, David Raine, NSA national chairman. A sustainable farming industry – what does that really mean? Dr Nafees Meah, DEFRA food and farming group’s deputy director. Environmental schemes – what’s their future? Andrew Kuyk, DEFRA’s head of environmental schemes . The farmers view the future of countryside management. John Geldard, NSA northern region vice-chairman
  • 2pm The George F White Climate Change Forum supported by Farmers Weekly. Chair, Jonathan Long, Farmers Weekly livestock editor. Hot sheep? Climate change at farm level: Hugh Fell and Richard Garland, George F White
  • 3pm Sheep Health. Chair, Peter Baber. Sheep Health Plans, putting theory into practice and adding up the farmer benefits: Matt Colston, MRCVS. The NSP scheme and the farmers point of view: Alan Alderson, Swaledale breeder and upland farmer
  • 3.30pm The National Scrapie Plan Road Show. NSP progress and SEO236 update: Mike Dawson, NSP. Issues for industry to consider: Peter Morris, NSA chief executive

Maximum production from all available resources is the main aim for host farmers the Skidmore family, Bill and Vera, their sons, John and Maurice and grandsons, Ian, Malcolm and Andrew.

“We have taken various opportunities over the last 50 years to expand and achieve real economies of scale and we’re not the slightest bit interested in lowering producton levels to take up any EU or government funded environment or diversification schemes,” explains John Skidmore.

With more than 2020ha (5000 acres) in their care, the family are well aware of their responsibility to the environment and wildlife.

“Today’s landscapes, which the public love and which have encouraged a plethora of wildlife, have been created by generations of sheep men like us, farming this upland just as intensively for food. Joining a scheme, such as ELS or HLS, would be a backward step, not only for wildlife, but also for us.”

Half the farm is owned and the business revolves around two main steadings, North Hanging Wells and nearby Wolfcleaugh, with the farm carrying more than 4000 Swaledale ewes, 1200 hoggs and a small flock of 30 Blueface Leicesters. Alongside sheep, the Skidmores also run some 150 suckler cows.

Much of the businesses income is derived from breeding female sales, with Mule ewe lambs providing the core of the sales. And in a change from tradition, most of these are sold direct from the farm – last year saw 1500 ewe lambs sold straight from the farm to repeat buyers across the UK wanting breeding females in high volumes accompanied by reputable health status. However, the farm’s top pens are still sold through the ring at either Middleton-in-Teesdale or Kirkby Stephen.

Most of the flock’s Swaledale replacements are selected from the purebred flock at Wolfcleugh, with 500 ewes of various ages offered from the farm each year either at regular sales or direct from the farm.

Ultimately, the family would like the farm to be entirely self sufficient. In a bid to achieve this they have invested in a 263ha (650 acre) lowland unit five years ago at Wynyard, Sedgefield. This unit is stocked with 1200 Swaledale ewes put to Bluefaced Leicester tups to breed North Country Mule lambs. It also supplies itself and the upland units with forage, cereals and straw together with winter tack grazing for 1000 Swaledale hoggs.

Much of the original land benefited from land improvement schemes in the 1970s, explains Maurice Skidmore. “We drained and reseeded, increased stocking rate and produced more food. In turn we had more capital tied up in stock which enhanced the sustainability of the business and allowed the opportunity to expand.”

Many farms have diversified over the last 20 years, says Mr Skidmore. “But for us that wasn’t the best way forward. We’ve focused on what we’re good at which is producing volumes of quality sheep.

“At the same time we’ve been conscious of maintaining wildlife populations. We will continue to keep an open mind to potential opportunities as they arise, but whatever we do has to enable us to farm well.”

Event Information

  • North Sheep takes place at North Hanging Wells, Weirdale on 6 June
  • Admission costs £9 or £5 for NSA members on production of 2007 membership card. Students and children under 16 are free, as are international visitors on production of a passport.
  • Further information is available from event organiser Julie Sedgewick 01388 664 496 or email juliesedgewick@btinternet.com www.northsheep.org.uk

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