The three-generation farming partnership of H.C. Derryman and Sons successfully marries good old fashioned stockmanship with quality stock. Rebecca Jordan reports.
The Derryman family’s philosophy of avoiding extortionate costs through intensive management has been a saving grace this winter and spring when all farming businesses have been pushed to their limit.
Elsewhere, high stocking densities have put pressure on feed and bedding costs as well as slurry and disease management.
“Our system is simple but effective most of the time,” explains Peter Derryman. “It suits the farms and the stock we manage over them. In fact, the basic principle is little changed since my great grandfather moved to Peterhayes 100 years ago.”
Peter farms with his son Philip, parents Henry and Hilary, and brother Robert. They work together at Peterhayes Farm, just outside Yarcombe, and Mount Pleasant Farm three miles away at Stockton, near Honiton, Devon. The two farms share machinery and are run as one unit for bovine TB purposes. Both farms are in the Blackdown Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Henry, Hilary, Robert and Philip are based at the original 130-hectare (320-acre) holding – Peterhayes. Here 120 British Friesians are milked with followers and 100 pedigree Hampshire ewes and 350 Romneys run across predominately grazing ground.
Each year 10ha (25 acres) of wholecrop barley is harvested for the dairy cows. Once cut the ground is sown to turnips for winter feeding the pedigree shearling rams which are predominately sold off farm.
Otherwise the ground is down to a mix of permanent pasture and medium-term clover grass leys.
Peter and his wife Cathy moved to Mount Pleasant in 1984. This 49ha (120-acre) grassland farm is 200 metres (650ft) above sea level – 106m (350ft) higher than Peterhayes. Here they look after 100-head of pedigree Suffolks and all youngstock bred from the dairy herd. They did milk cows here but the herds were merged in 2003 to ease the demand on labour.
The Derrymans have always performance recorded stock through Signet, so accuracy figures are high. The family closely follows traits for muscle and fat depth and growth rates as both breeds are easy finishing.
Peter says: “We have always seen performance recording as another sales tool. There are not many recorded flocks in the South West, so if someone is looking to buy a recorded ram they are more likely to come to us. But we have got to like what we are looking at: the Hampshire and Suffolk breeds must be good on their legs, stand square and have a good front and back end.
“There are also traits such as cold weather tolerance which has been very important in the past few months that cannot be measured. About a third of our Suffolk rams are sold to go onto Mules to breed females replacements, so maternal traits are also very important.”
Progeny from the Hampshires and Suffolks can be found with indicies in the top 10 per cent for all traits. Although most sales are conducted from home, good averages have been achieved at sales – particularly Exeter NSA.
Every year a home-bred high index lamb of both breeds is used across the flocks to makes sure the Derrymans incorporate some of their own genetics from better performing ewes which have stood the test of time.
“Signet’s inbreeding coefficient tool has been particularly useful to help with mating choices,” says Peter.
Up to 10 years ago Peter and Cathy AI’d their Suffolks but have now simplified the system by using a teaser and buying-in performance-recorded rams which are pleasing to the eye.
These are sourced privately or from Kelso ram sale. Last year Peter bought three out of a pen of 30 from Alan Jackson (Rugley) to complement a five-year-old ram purchased from Sandy Sutherland (Soutra).
The Derrymans do all they can to avoid bringing disease onto the farm with new stock. All sheep are maedi visna-accredited.
100-head of pedigree Suffolks are looked after at Mount Pleasant Farm.
Twelve years ago Robert was keen to introduce a self-replicating commercial breed and decided on the Romney. It ticked many boxes.
“They are easy to lamb, prolific and this year, of the 250 ewes, only one went out without rearing a lamb and one died. Most of this flock has been out in that dreadful weather post-lambing, so if they can do all that this year they cannot be doing much wrong,” says Robert.
A majority of their wether lambs are ready to sell by August/September, with no creep at 46kg to 48kg liveweight and grade at R3L. They do this off an extra block of rented grazing.
Currently the Hampshires lamb first in December having scanned at 160 per cent. It is then the turn of the Suffolks (170 per cent scanning result) in February and the Romneys from March 1. Two-thirds of the latter are bred pure for replacements; the rest crossed and put to a Hampshire or Suffolk.
About 100 Romney ewe lambs run with a Hampshire ram for 20 days.
Philip says: “The resulting lambs are born easily in April and soon catch up with earlier lambs. We are going to shear the Romney ewes in May and September this year to see if it helps them as they do carry a lot more fleece than other breeds. It will save dagging them later on and they should be cleaner through winter.”
During those months ewes move away to neighbouring dairy farms.
“The area is predominately dairy and they like to have sheep to manage grass. We aim to treat this ground like our own because we do not want to lose it,” says Peter.
“It is not a complicated system but we seem to be doing okay, especially with the volatile milk price. The cows are providing us with cattle to finish which means we do not have to buy-in stock and disease – as well as a regular milk cheque.
“At the same time the sheep are an enormous aid in our grassland management so the two enterprises work well together. I hope quality stock and good management produce the right results and keep us in business.”
Peter Derryman is the chairman of the National Sheep Association (NSA) south west region.
He says: “We are obviously farming in such uncertain times. The most important issue our industry must get right now is a decent trade deal to ensure the industry stays profitable at a time when home consumption of lamb is declining. However, exchange rates and the export trade are giving the industry a well-deserved boost at the moment.
“In the South West we are lucky to have a very strong NSA committee. It is normal for up to 20 members to come to meetings which are then full of debate. These are varied and thorough, with many views to take into account as the committee is made up of farmers, feed suppliers, vets, pedigree breeders, auctioneers and buyers to name a few.”