flock profit from each acre
One Somerset family has
made radical changes to
its sheep flock in a bid
to boost profitability.
Emma Penny reports
MAKING maximum profit from each acre is the driving force behind one familys sheep enterprise – that has meant changing ewe breed and increasing numbers on the same acreage, better recording and rethinking the lamb finishing system.
Compared with four years ago, the Webber family from Somerset are now making an additional £119/ha (£48/acre) gross income, worked out at a price of £30/lamb.
"If wed stayed where we were, we would have been £66/acre worse off. Better performance means were only £12/acre worse off despite lamb prices dropping an average of £24/lamb," says Richard Webber.
Improved financial performance has resulted from increasing ewe numbers from 400 to 600, while changing ewe breed has also helped. Four years ago, the flock was made up of 300 Texel-cross ewes and 100 Exmoor Horns. Today, its half Texel-cross, with some almost purebred, and half North Country Mule.
Mr Webber says keeping more ewes adds to profitability. Assuming sheep annual premium is £20/ewe, hiss 200 additional animals add £2000 to the bottom line after leasing costs.
"Our basic theory is that we need to make maximum profit off each acre. We have found that we are not being paid enough for producing quality, hence the reason for reducing the number of Texel ewes in the flock and opting for better prolificacy."
Four years ago, the flock had a lambing percentage of 130%; last year it was 169%. "I think this will improve this year because the North Country Mules were two tooths last year and should perform better in their second lambing."
The increase in lambing percentage and ewe numbers means the farm produced an additional 338 lambs last year, worth £11,800 at a price of £35 each, although costs must be deducted from that figure.
However, the increase in ewe and lamb numbers has been achieved without increasing the acreage of land required, another factor which has helped boost profitability.
The flock runs on 40ha (98 acres) at Putham Farm, Wheddon Cross, with a further 24ha (60 acres) rented at a maximum cost of £148/ha (£60/acre).
"Weve managed to increase ewe and lamb numbers without taking on more grass by taking ewes inside in November rather than January and by finishing lambs more quickly so theyre on farm for a shorter period of time."
Ewes are housed in November and shorn to allow more to be housed in the existing building. "We find ewes are happier inside once theyre shorn, and they produce lambs which are on average 0.5kg heavier than when they were not shorn."
Mr Webber says its cheaper to take ewes inside than to rent additional grass for winter grazing. Maintaining ewe condition throughout tupping and during housing is important for ensuring maximum prolificacy so ewes are given access to tupping buckets at grass, and are then fed moist grain after a steady transition between the two feeds after housing.
"We have also reduced the ewe:tup ratio and now have 40 ewes for every tup, rather than the 70:1 ratio that we used originally. Rams are in with each group for three weeks and are then swapped round to ensure we dont have problems with duff rams. We also find that a three-week period is enough to allow us to identify rams which are performing well and those which are not."
Ewes lamb in early March – three weeks earlier than before to take advantage of more early grass after housing ewes earlier. A key advantage of Mr Webbers system is that all ewes carry an electronic ID bolus. This allows him to record ewe performance at lambing such as the number of lambs born, whether they were dead or alive and whether the ewe has any milk or has udder problems.
"We know which tup ewes have been served by and can therefore also identify which tups have performed well, particularly once lambs are finished and slaughtered.
"Now we are paying far more attention to individual ewe and tup performance and have detailed information to make decisions on, rather than going by eye."
He hopes that more information will allow him to identify which of his Texel rams will cross well with North Country Cheviot ewes to produce lambs with a better carcass specification.
• More ewes on same area.
• Changed breed and system.
• Recording has helped.
Richard Webbers sheep system had to change to improve profitability.