By Ernie Richards, NSA Next Generation Ambassador & Shepherd at the Wernoog Flock
The ‘climate crisis’ is an all too familiar phase we are hearing on a daily basis. Agriculture seems to be accused as being a main culprit. As we know this is not the full picture as other industries are considerably higher in emitting emissions.
However, agriculture globally is a vast industry and within it many sectors all producing different levels of emissions. Sheep farming is known to be a low-level emitting sector. This said, we all need to play a part in securing the future to control the climate crisis by maintaining our high standards in producing food for the ever-growing population.
As food producers, sheep farmers need to be doing their best to rear livestock in the most environmentally sustainable and cost-effective way. For generations farmers have been custodians of the countryside, managing the land to produce food whilst maintaining our rich environment. Livestock farming, as we know reaps many environmental benefits within the UK especially our topography and climate provides the perfect landscape to have varied farming systems.
Generally, sheep grazing less productive areas means they provide maximum utilisation to produce food. The grazing pattern of sheep create a good balance to encourage biodiversity whist providing the soil with valuable enriched elements.
The Lleyn is a prime example of how a breed of sheep is suitability sustainably in producing products whilst ensuring minimal emissions are released. Capturing carbon within its wool, sheep provide both a high fibre product and a high protein food source which can have an extremely low carbon footprint.
As an efficient breed, the Lleyn provides longevity and low maintenance whilst being productive. Utilising the land extremely well, the Lleyn is a multipurpose ewe with strong maternal traits. Good mothering ability, ease of lambing, and milkiness, gives the Lleyn the capability to be highly sustainable. Good durability means Lleyn ewes can adapt to varied farming systems and diverse environments and are renowned for being kept at higher stocking rates with an ability to reach a rearing percentage of 200%.
Our farming system operates a closed high health status flock of Lleyn which are managed at an altitude of the 1100ft. The Lleyn is the perfect breed to suit our upland grassland farm where sheep farming produces maximum food off the marginal land we manage.
We are entirely grassland, producing our own forage to supplement during the winter months. We are actively ensuring we are being as carbon friendly as possible by having a low input, high output system.
In order to reduce our carbon footprint, we are actively reducing our purchased concentrate feed. Annually, we reseed up to 10 hectares by growing swedes/turnips as break crops. Growing root crops have proven to be a successful to feed for our ewes pre lambing. Additionally, within the reseed rotation, we use an Italian Rye Grass and Forage Rape mix. This short-term ley is to help us increase the number of prime lambs we finish. Producing our own forage and root crops means we produce good quality protein reducing the need for imported concentrates contained in rape seed meal and soya.
The excellent maternal nature of the Lleyn can also offer a way to offset carbon. By lambing a proportion of our ewe lambs, we are positively offsetting our carbon emissions sooner than if she was lambing as a yearling. By this, we offset her methane over more years by producing a lamb in her first year of life.
With the ever-growing pressures to go ‘green’ means as sheep producers we need to look at ways to ensure we can be as carbon neutral as possible. I feel the key to sustainability is finding the right balance by fine tuning different elements of our farming system by making it more efficient whilst embracing the environmental benefits to help sheep farming feed the growing population.