WHEN Lance Charity took on the tenancy of a council arable farm, he knew he would have to take every opportunity to maximise income from it.
Before taking on the 53 hectare (130-acre) holding near Peterborough, Lance Charity had already started to establish a flock of pedigree Poll Dorset sheep. As numbers have increased, it is playing an increasingly important role in not only providing an additional income stream, but also by benefiting the arable rotation.
Mr Charity grew up on a family farm and has always worked within the agricultural industry, with a particular interest in sheep, so when he took on the Peterborough City Council farm in 2018 along with his wife, Amy and children, Delilah and Digby, he was keen to expand his pedigree flock.
He says: “My first experience of having my own sheep was buying and rearing orphan lambs, but this is high risk, so as soon as I had the opportunity I started my own pedigree flock by initially buying seven Poll Dorset ewes.”
Additional stock has since been sourced from pedigree breeders, Tim Pratt, Ipswich, and Sam Driver, Glossop, and from having just 20 ewes when he took on the farm, the flock now stands at 100 ewes.
Mr Charity says: “I wanted a breed which could fit in with the rest of the farm and my other off-farm work commitments and the beauty of the Dorset is that they will lamb at any time of year.
“It suits me for them to lamb mid- September, wean the lambs in December and finish them on cover crops. They are then ready to hit the market when there is a shortage of new season lamb and they can command a premium price.”
Ewes are sheared before tupping in April. They are scanned in June and through the summer graze on rented river banks before being brought back to the farm about 10 days before the start of lambing.
Here they are grazed on a 2ha (5-acre) block of herbal leys comprising of white clover, bird’s-foot trefoil, meadow fescue, timothy, plantain, chicory, sainfoin and crimson clover which is planted in April. This is split in half and the sheep graze one side for seven days, before being moved to the other side.
Mr Charity says: “I wanted a low cost system and using the herbal leys has replaced mineral licks and concentrate feed.
“It also helps to keep the worm burden down. I use faecal egg counts but have not as yet needed to worm the ewes.
“Although not organic, as I do need to use some chemicals, for example against fly strike, I do aim to farm to organic principles.
“During the lambing period, at night, I move the ewes onto tighter one-acre grass paddock, the only grass on the farm, closer to the lambing pens. Once lambed they are kept under cover in pens for a day or two before being taken back to the river banks.”
Lambs are weaned in December onto cover crops of forage rape, tillage radish and crimson clover, which have been drilled on the arable land. They are strip grazed with a back fence, but leaving some residue to be returned back into the soil increasing organic matter.
Mr Charity says: “The majority of the farm is spring cropping to tackle black grass, so this works well. When the lambs are sold I can then direct drill the spring crops into the land which has already been cultivated.
“Next year I will probably graze the ewes and young lambs on the barley stubble initially, but then move them onto the cover crops earlier to make better use of them.
“I also intend to increase the amount of herbal leys we have as there is scope to increase sheep numbers further.”
This year the ewes scanned at 150 per cent and lambing has gone well.
Mr Charity says: “About 75 per cent of the flock were first time lambers, so I am happy with the number of lambs we had.
“The ewes have done really well on the herbal ley and have had big strong lambs which have been quick to get up and go and are growing well.”
Finished lambs are slaughtered at A. Wright and Son, Boston, at 20kg deadweight. Mr Charity says: “There is a misconception that Dorset carcases are fat, but that need not be the case as the lambs usually at grade R3L.
Initially, when sheep numbers were less, lambs were sold through a box scheme and although this is continuing, Mr Charity is now working with other producers to supply the lambs to a leading supermarket.
Mr Charity has a 10-year tenancy on the farm after which time he hopes to be able move onto a bigger holding.
He says: “Peterborough City Council are extremely supportive and have a number of farms, from starter farms like mine to bigger ones. They are really keen to give young people chance to start in the industry and then help them progress.
“This was the first tenancy I had applied for and I think the key to being successful is to really do your homework, know your costs and have a strong business plan.
“I am continuing to work off-farm on a number of agriculture related jobs, but want to build up a sound business here and hopefully when this tenancy comes to an end I will be able to take on one of the bigger farms.”