8 December 2022
Exceeding targets for ewe efficiency and lamb growth rates is helping a Welsh sheep farm to become more carbon efficient.
Hendre Ifan Goch, a Farming Connect demonstration site near Blackmill, Bridgend, produces lamb from a flock of 540 ewes, mainly Texel x Mules.
In 2022, that flock reared 1.65 lambs per ewe to an average of 30.5kg at weaning; this gives a ewe efficiency of 76% - the target had been 65%.
The farmers, Rhys Edwards and his parents, Russell and Eira, use this weaning efficiency data to monitor maternal performance in the flock and to guide flock management and breeding decisions.
Decisions to feed at lambing, paddock graze, wean early and creep feed have been informed by looking at ewe efficiency data along with body condition score and grass availability, farmers were told at a recent Farming Connect open day at the farm.
With grass availability in short supply during the hot and dry summer, lambs were creep fed to relieve pressure on grazing.
Data from GrassCheck and Agrinet was used to inform this decision.
Although the Edwards’ generally don’t creep feed, when grass is limited, it impacts on a ewe’s milk yield which, in turn, compromises lamb performance.
With lambs at their most efficient at converting milk to kilogrammes of live weight, Rhys said it made financial sense to feed to get the lambs finished and off the farm.
It had cost £2/lamb to finish the first 300 lambs to a deadweight of 18-20kg and, by finishing them early, they captured a higher sale price.
Selection of excellent genetics and a focus on health is helping him to reduce the number of days lambs are on-farm.
Flock efficiency is key to capturing carbon efficiency gains - one of the goals the Edwards’ had set themselves in their Farming Connect project work.
The farm is currently stocked at 1.2 livestock units per hectare - 4 ewes/acre.
Independent sheep and beef specialist Dr Liz Genever, who has worked with the Edwards’ on their Farming Connect projects, said the Farmax model shows that the business could increase its ewe numbers by 12%, if all lambs except replacements are sold by September.
This would capture an extra gross margin of £89/ha, she calculated.
Other opportunities identified by Dr Genever to increase income include investing in a battery unit for the farm’s 5.5kW hydroelectric power plant to allow peaks in energy production to be stored, or investing in a bigger hydro system.
Hendre Ifan Goch has soils with high levels of organic matter - 10-14% - which could be storing approximately 150 tonnes of carbon per hectare.
It is a net zero farm with data from Farm Carbon Toolkit in 2021 showing that it emits 283 tonnes of CO2 equivalents a year and captures 480 tonnes CO2e.
Dr Genever, a speaker at the open day, said these figures give a balance of 190 tonnes of CO2e or 2.1 tonnes a hectare (0.9 tonnes an acre).
In the future, carbon could be valued at around £50 per tonne therefore she suggested that selling some of this could generate a further source of income.
Hendre Ifan Goch is a low intensity farm with 80% of land down to grassland. It generates no more than 100kg of N/ha/year as organic manures and up to 90kg/N/ha in artificial nitrogen.
It has reduced its use of artificial nitrogen on grazing ground, mainly driven by price, with some poultry manures used instead.
As part of its goal for capturing carbon efficiency gains, a trace element audit was carried out as part of its Farming Connect project work.
This examined the supply of trace elements over a 12 month period, including water supply, forage samples, supplementary feed, feed licks, drenches and boluses, and matching that to flock needs.
That audit showed no significant concern with the supply of most macrominerals, but the grass samples indicated that the iodine levels did not meet dietary requirements.
Although the ewes are given a slow-release trace element bolus, that bolus doesn’t contain iodine therefore in 2022 a drench containing iodine was introduced two weeks before tupping.
“We won’t know how beneficial this has been to ewe fertility until we scan but we can be confident that the ewes are covered for all their trace element needs,’’ said Rhys.
Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.