A young farmer’s mission to raise low-input herds so she can raise 500 ewes and 80 cows on her own was sparked by a generous giveaway.
Carmarthenshire cattle and sheep farmer Carys Jones won a free Romney ram from the Kaiapoi herd last year and is impressed with the results so far.
She hopes the sheep system can emulate the farm’s parent company, which switched continental dairy cows to Stabilizer genetics in 2015.
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Miss Jones farms with Grandfather Trevor at Carreg cyn ffyrdd, near Llandeilo, on the edge of the Black Mountain. She is trying to prepare the business for falling subsidies.
“I changed the breast milk genetics and each cow has at least 50% stabilizer and a lot less input than before,” explains Miss Jones.
“What I want to do with the sheep is try to raise the equivalent of a Stabilizer ewe and lamb outdoors, which means that apart from helping out on big grazing days, I’ll be able to run the farm largely.” to lead alone.”
Facts about the farm
- 500 mostly improved Welsh Mountain ewes
- 60 Stabilizer suckler cows to market this year
- 141 ha (350 acres) with 80-100 ha (200-250 acres) improved
- From 180 to 310 m altitude
- Prime Lambs sells live weight through an agent
- Store privately sold livestock and breeding stock
- Charollais and New Zealand Sufftex terminal sires
- Ewes scan at 155% and rear at 140%
The free cup was gifted by Hertfordshire Romney breeders Rob and Jo Hodgkins after Miss Jones successfully competed in a National Sheep Association competition.
The initiative, dubbed the Next Generation Giveaway, was part of a pledge the Hodgkins made when they made a financing offer to fund the import of six live rams with the Myomax muscle gene from New Zealand in 2019.
The import received £20,000 from the Frank Parkinson Agricultural Trust and £3,000 from the Henry Plumb Foundation.
Miss Jones was one of six lucky applicants from a pool of 40 who explained why they needed the ram and what they wanted to achieve in the sheep industry.
“I was drawn to Kaiapoi Romneys because of the amount of data behind it. They are good collectors and do well with very little input. They also have the muscle gene so should produce a decent carcass.
“When I drove over to pick him up he looked like a simple grass fed ram but he has since grown up and is now a much larger male.”
The farm has joint grazing rights for 600 ewes on the Black Mountain. However, due to a long-term endemic sheep rustling problem in the area, the family only grazes in the meadow for a short time.
“Once the Glastir payment goes up the hill next year we will probably take away the sheep as the risk of losing them is too high and there is also a risk of disease such as worm resistance,” explains Miss Jones.
This means that productivity at home must be improved for the business to thrive. The herd joined the Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC) Hill Ram program in 2018 to improve genetic value after rearing rates plummeted.
Miss Jones also hopes the lambing work can be minimized, according to the family i.eYou don’t have to spend your holidays in the lamb stall.
In its first season, the Kaiapoi Romney met many criteria, explains Miss Jones:
- It topped 52 ewes and was full in lamb – the only tup without empty ewes
- Ewes bred by him were 157% scanned compared to an average of 150-155%
- Only one ewe needed a light pull at lambing
- The lambs were heavier at eight weeks (see “Weights of different groups of lambs at eight weeks”) and on weaning.
Weights of different lambing sire groups after eight weeks
single pieces (kg)
24.7 (120 lambs)
21.5 (269 lambs)
25:1 (30 lambs)
22.6 (43 lambs)
22:3 (12 lambs)
21.98 (45 lambs)
New Zealand sufftex
22.8 (40 lambs)
21.4 (47 lambs)
The performance convinced her to buy a second turnip and 100 shearling ewes from Kaiapoi this year.
This has enabled her to make the most of the high ewe culling prices and use her flock data to kill empty ewes and problem ewes.
The farm has historically lambed the crossbred and terminal stock lambs indoors and the pure Welsh Mountain ewes outdoors.
Ewe lambs were sired by a home bred Charmoise ram and Charollais terminal sires were used for ewes.
The plan now is to criss-cross the farm’s Welsh Mountain herd to breed replacements, using a performance-tested Welsh Mountain ram and a Romney.
The Charmoise ram will still sire the ewes and Primera and New Zealand Sufftexes will produce lower index sheep as final sires.
The farm has been breeding and selling their own recorded rams through Prohill since 2018 – run by HCC.
“There are 183 bucks in the Prohill auction this year and it should be possible to pick a better buck from this group of breeders. There’s data and the rams aren’t being forced, so they should work.”
Ewes will continue to have two cycles with the ram, lambing from April 1st, but outdoors. Outdoor lambing should save a lot of straw and labor, says Miss Jones.
The aim is to build up sufficient grass areas with the help of the 14-day plate measurement by budgeting for grass over the autumn and winter.
The Romney, Prohill Welsh Mountain and Primera Cross lambs should hopefully lamb outside and be checked twice a day.
Success with the cattle inspired Miss Jones to review the sheep system.
The herd has gone from calving to calving in 12 weeks and a rearing rate of 95-100% for most of the year due to good fertility, easy calving, low mortality and a few twins per year.
Previously, the cows were British Blue and Limousin crossbreeds from dairy herds and they needed a lot of strength and support at calving.
Stabilizer birth weights averaged 36 kg this spring, and overwintering year-old heifers outdoors with silage and a small amount of rearing nuts saved feed costs. Adult cows now winter only with haylage.
The average cow weight has dropped by 100-150 kg to 650-700 kg, which means more cows can be kept on the same area.
“If I want to farm largely on my own, I don’t want to have heavy, tedious jobs like pulling calves. This has been eradicated in the cows, I hope so [pulling lambs] can also be in the sheep.
“Only one cow needed help calving this spring, and that was an old continental cow.”
The farm’s high rainfall (typically 1.6 million a year) means wintering on the land – which consists of peat over clay in areas – can lead to severe poaching.
In order to allow for the expansion, the farm will have a new manure store built so that an additional 10-15 cows can be kept.
A slatted floor and roof will be installed above the storey, allowing the farm to potentially keep 50 cows alongside 500 ewes.