Robert and Tracy Powell are attempting to make more from less on their holding at Maesmynis, Builth Wells. Farmers Guardian reports.
The Powells farm 275 hectares (680 acres) of severely disadvantaged area (SDA) land which holds ministry of defence range grazing rights at Blaenbwch, Maesmynis, Builth Wells, which is also the venue for a Federation of Welsh Grassland Societies (FWGS) visit on Wednesday 25 May.
Mob grazing 500 lambs off just 10ha (25 acres) over a 10 to11 week period last season demonstrated some of Blaenbwch’s real potential from a combination of rotationally grazed high sugar grass, red clover, chicory and herbal ley mix. Add high performance Innovis genetics to the strategy and Robert Powell says he is aiming to reduce production costs to £50 per ewe.
“While we can’t expand the grazing area, we are learning about reseeding with higher value mixes and how to utilise, not for silage but quality grazing. We introduced a paddock system split into 10, 1ha paddocks, and moved the lambs on every two days after they’d taken down the sward from 1,800kg DM/ha to 1,100kg DM/ha”, says Mr Powell.
Getting to grips with better grassland management and stepping up reseeding with new high value mixes became one of the priorities for Mr Powell following a Meat Promotion Wales (HCC) scholarship tour to New Zealand in 2012. “Our traditional system had to change if the unit was to remain sustainable. We started to rejuvenate the stratified sheep enterprise and expand ewe numbers from 2,200 to 3,000 head. Already, it’s a million miles better.”
“Apart from in the past being disappointed with our terminal sires’ longevity, we wanted to breed a smaller crossbred ewe maturing at 65kg to 70kg, around 20 per cent less than a Welsh Mule, and one which would look after itself for nine months of the year off grass and for the majority of time without any concentrate.
“Innovis genetics looked like fitting the bill. We invested in Aberdale and Aberfield maternal sires noted for their prolificacy, mothering ability and efficiency. The decision has enabled us to increase stocking rate and maintain similar levels of performance at around 195 per cent scanned. Another bonus is our 400 Aberdale cross ewes don’t need flushing thereby freeing up 14ha of seasonal grazing for the ewe lambs coming off the mountain.
“In addition, swapping continental terminal sires for the Innovis range is enabling us to finish lambs to target weight one week earlier and reduce ram power; last season one Abermax ram covered 114 cross-bred ewes scanning 198 per cent and over 90 per cent lambed within the first three weeks.
“On the forage front, for the first time we’ve grown 6ha of fodder beet in addition to the swedes and turnips we’d been growing for years. This will allow us to keep more ewes at home as we increase numbers in future. Feed costs work out at 4p to 5p per ewe per day.
“Added together, Blaenbwch’s improved performance is so far just the tip of the iceberg. We believe there so much more potential to make more from less.”
Hill flocks retained for breeding ewe replacements
700 Epynt Hardy ewes, half kept pure and half crossed to the Aberfield
700 Brecknock Cheviot ewes kept pure
400 Beulah Speckled Face ewes crossed to the Aberdale
All flocks lamb outdoors from early April, averaging 17.5kg target deadweight in six months; 90 per cent of ram lambs finished by November.
400 Aberdale and Aberfield cross ewes put to Abermax, Aberblack or Primera terminal sires.
Lambing indoors mid-March, lambs are finished off milk and grass at an average 12 weeks and 33kg live, and sold through Builth and Rhayader marts to the small lamb market.