Three pronged solution to maximising output from reduced inputs
Pure Lleyns + Hampshire Down cross lambs + forage management
If you are seeking to maximise output from fewer inputs, then Matt Geen has a simple, three pronged solution. Firstly, he is dedicated to breeding and rearing volumes of high genetic merit, low maintenance Lleyn ewes for the commercial market place. He is exploiting the bottom half of the flockâ€™s potential by crossing those ewes with complementary performance recorded Hampshire Down sires to produce fast finishing, quality lamb for a quick cash flow. Last yet not least, he is finding these genetics are enabling him to minimise inputs by maximising the use of homegrown forage.
â€śSince we decided to swap our crossbred ewes for a closed flock of pure Lleyns in the late 1990s weâ€™ve been able to virtually double stocking rate to six ewes per acre and flushing is no longer required. The number of pure Lleyn lambs reared from ewes put to the ram has increased by 20% to 185% in 2013, and just 3.5% of the flock scanned barren,â€ť Matt explains. â€śWeâ€™ve a new income stream selling pure performance recorded shearling Lleyn ewes to commercial producers, whilst our Hampshire Down cross lambs are finishing off grazed grass at an average 20 weeks to 19kg target weight and grading within the U, R specification.â€ť
Matt farms Great Combeshead, South Molton in partnership with his father, Bill and his grandfather, Herbert. The 900 acre Devon based LFA grassland unit carries 1,700 ewes, of which 40% are pedigree Lleyn. â€śWe are committed sheep producers; the flock is our sole enterprise run on improved grassland averaging 1,000 feet,â€ť Matt explains.
â€śIâ€™m the fifth generation to take forward the family farm, and for me the future is all about maintaining an efficient and sustainable enterprise which delivers to meet market demand and turn in a profit. That means we have to have the tools to achieve our goal, a combination of genetics, management and nutrition.
â€śOur Lleyn ewes have proved to be able to deliver more kilos of lamb per ewe with lower maintenance requirements and they enable us to develop a high performance closed flock. At the same time, we are continuously searching out the latest technologies which have the potential to help us make further progress. For example, since introducing EID to the entire flock, itâ€™s helping us to Signet performance record every ewe and lamb and thereby select the most efficient for replacement purposes. Our 2020 goal is for the flock to be within the breedâ€™s top 50% for maternal index. â€ť
In addition, Matt supplements the Signet data with his own individual ewe records, logged on a hand held device, for lambing assistance, teat placement and maternal drive.
Of the Geenâ€™s top 50% recorded ewe lambs, 30% are retained as replacements and the remainder sold, whilst a handful of ram lambs are traded annually as shearlings to commercial producers and remainder are finished within 25 weeks to target 19kg target weight. The bottom half of the performance recorded females, which are essentially a by-product, are introduced to Hampshire Down rams to achieve an acceptable 170% lambs reared from ewes put to the ram.
â€śWeâ€™ve carefully selected our Hampshire Down rams from within the breedâ€™s top 10% for growth and muscling and theyâ€™re certainly living up to what weâ€™d read about; theyâ€™re doing what it says on the tin. Weâ€™re finding that these lambs require minimal intervention at lambing, the new born lambs get up and suck immediately, and they have tight thick skins providing hardiness.
â€śFurthermore, compared with previous terminal sire breeds used, our Hampshire Down rams are able to produce meat solely from grass â€“ 15% are finished and away by 14 week weaning and the entire crop by the end of September within six months. Fast finishing not only saves on bought-in feed costs but also frees up the grazing swards for the breeding ewes.â€ť
Such flock performance is highly commendable since the Geens are farming on the edge of Exmoor. â€śDespite the altitude and 80â€ť average annual rainfall, our objective is to maximise the unitâ€™s potential by careful sward management.â€ť
â€śWorking closely with our agronomist, weâ€™ve developed a five year rotation featuring an average 40 acres of annual reseeding with the latest high sugar varieties that are most suited to growing at 1,000 feet. Red clover is useful for lamb finishing and we introduce approximately 10 acres each year. We are also conscious of weed control and our annual programme features spraying and wiping, as well as reseeding.â€ť The Geens soil test a percentage of the area each year to help make more accurate fertiliser applications and also lime where necessary. The unit is also very low in selenium, cobalt and iodine which they overcome by bolusing the ewes pre tupping and pre lambing which means the lambs benefit through the ewesâ€™ milk.
Whilst sheep are the sole enterprise at Great Combeshead, a clean grazing system is maintained by taking the ewes off the improved leys at the end of October and transferring them for tupping to a wedge of permanent leys, some of which are reclaimed moorland currently in an HLS agreement. This forage wedge lasts until early January, at which point the ewes are housed, theyâ€™re shorn and approximately 40 days pre lambing and introduced to hay and concentrates. Immediately after lambing, ewes and lambs are turned out on to the reseeded swards for approximately six weeks, after which theyâ€™re moved on to older leys.
Matt adds: â€śWeâ€™re fully aware that CAP Reform is just around the corner and we are now more informed of the implications. However we are confident that we have the genetics in our Lleyn ewes and Hampshire Down rams which will help us to maximise the resources on an LFA grassland unit like ours, as long as we remain up to speed with the latest technical developments which have the potential for roll out, whether they be breed development, husbandry or management.â€ť
Article kindly supplied by The Hampshire Down Sheep Breeders Association