Maximising Efficiency Using Grass-fed Native Breeds

'The Griffin Family, Saltash, Cornwall'

In an era when livestock farmers are struggling with spiralling feed, fertiliser and fuel costs threatening their livelihoods, the Griffin family have a thriving sheep and cattle business on their tenanted farm in the Tamar Valley. Their profitable enterprise is based on South Devon cattle and Lleyn sheep, both of which flourish on grass, on a ruthless focus on minimising costs and on the health and fertility of their stock, all backed up by diversification through a farm shop.


George Griffin and his son Dominic farm 440 acres on the banks of the Tamar, ranging from 35 to 650 ft above sea level. Production is based on quality grass and they are joining a countryside Stewardship Scheme using clovers and GS4 mixtures to improve grass yield and reduce fertiliser use.


Going back some years, the farm focused on sheep: they had 450 Mules and 300 Suffolk X Mules supplemented by bought in cattle eating food produced on farm. George recognised an opportunity to open a small farm butchery (based at a nearby garden centre) and quickly developed the business, serving 350 customers a week and putting £1million through the small trailer unit he used. This business expanded, with a permanent unit, requiring a more reliable, year-round meat supply.

It became increasingly difficult to source quality beef. In 2014, the first South Devons were introduced to Heathfield Farm. The Griffins are now up to 100 cows and their followers. All the progeny are put through the farm shop. As regards the sheep flock, the Griffins recognised the problems with buying in Mules - consistency and health - and were also concerned that, as they aged, the percentage of triplets became too high for comfortable outdoor lambing which is the only option when minimising labour costs.


The decision was made to cull all of the Mule-based stock and establish a closed flock of Lleyn, a breed which is easy to care for and which is healthy, with MV Accredited stock easy to find. Lleyn are ideally suited to low input, grass fed (no cake) systems and can be very successfully lambed outdoors with good prolificacy (185% or so) with no staffing needs.


The Lleyn flock was established five years ago with Boakley females from Reuben Saunders. For the first two years, females and rams were bought in, but the flock is now closed and replacements are reared on the farm, with 250 ewes and 50 ewe lambs put to the ram every year. Initially, the thought was to cross the Lleyn with a terminal sire. However, experience showed that pure breds grow and grade well and are popular with the farm shop's customers. 

To maintain the focus on fertility, a teaser is used for 2 weeks and the females (ewes and ewe lambs) are left with the ram for 3 weeks. 80% pregnancy is achieved with the ewe lambs and the remainder are slaughtered.


Over winter, the sheep have no corn at all, although they are supplied with energy buckets and haylage or silage before there is any shortage of grass. Lambing is usually around 180-190% (typically 30% singles; 55% twins; 15% triplets) and ewes and ewe lambs rear however many they have.



Lambs are selected for the butcher as soon as they reach 41 kg (to avoid 3H or 4L). They grade around 60% R, 30% U, 7% E and are all off the farm by Christmas.


The flock selection policy is rigorous. The flock is culled strictly for health traits, particularly fertility, udder problems (vicious east wind on parts of the farm) and foot issues.


Anyone would be impressed by the Griffin family's vision, strategy and determined focus on their key drivers of profit as an example to all in these difficult times.

John Adams