Maternal ewes have helped combat lower lamb price – Welsh sheep farmer

Ben Anthony and Diana Fairclough are relatively new sheep farmers from Frowen in Wales. The couple first started farming in 2010, when they took over the Fairclough family farm.

“We had the opportunity to take over the farm and we grabbed it with both hands. The farm has 110ac of grassland and 35ac of woodland.

“The farm had previously been a dairy farm back in the 1980s, but we turned it into an easily managed sheep farm,” Anthony said.

Anthony explained how they developed a high-output forage-based sheep flock over the past five years, at the recent Teagasc National Sheep Conference. 

Since 2010, ewe numbers have increased from 300 to just over 570 and a further 160 ewe lambs, while the suckler herd has been reduced from 40 to 17 cows and 25 store cattle, he said.

We reduced the cow numbers, as it was not paying us to keep them, we were losing £200 a cow.

To deal with the extra stock numbers, Anthony said that they completed a nutrient management plan, rented 90 acres and also looked at alternative forages that could be used as a feed source on the farm.

Sheep breeding

Anthony also said the ewe type on farm has changed over the past couple of years, as they have moved away from the traditional Suffolk and Texel to a lighter ewe that gives birth to more lambs.

“We used to sell fat lambs on the live market and breed our own replacement ewe lambs, but we made the decision to focus solely on the fat lamb market.”

He said that they previously selected ewe lambs in June, but now they purchase a better quality, more maternal ewe lamb later in the season.

We now buy in all our replacement ewe lambs from one source to minimise the risk of disease

The ewe breed of choice is the Aberfield, he said.

“They are a robust ewe which are easy to manage, lighter than our traditional ewes, easy lambing, and good mothers capable of rearing twins on a forage-based system,” he said.

Our scanning rate in 2011 was 150%, this year we scanned at 195%.

The Wales-based farmer also said that the lambing date on the farm has been changed over the last number of years.

“We started lambing at the end of January and it lasted until the beginning of May. In 2014, we changed the lambing period to start at the beginning of March and it ended in April,” he said.

And, despite the later lambing, he said that there were new season lambs sold at the end of May, which was the same time as previous years.

“The main reason for this change in lambing period is that we now have more grass available for the ewes and lambs at turn out,” he said.

He also said that the additional lambs born in 2015 have helped to counteract the lamb price drop in the UK.

Our lamb price has been particularly bad this year, but we have taken an extra £7,000 because of our higher scanning rate.

Forage crops grown on farm

  • Turnips
  • Fodder beet
  • Red clover
  • Arable silage
  • Plantain, chicory, red clover and grass mixtures
  • Forage rape