This week, the Duguids have been buying tups to ensure they go into the 2020 sheep breeding season fully stocked. Over the years of the project, the farm has grown its flock from 230 ewes to 330 ewes served by eight or nine tups.
This year, Arthur has been on the lookout for four or five more tups. So far, he has bought one Suffolk shearling from Caithness for £700. He also bought two Texels at Thainstone, one shearling for £700 and a tup lamb at £680. This leaves another Suffolk tup to buy for the ewes and they are hoping to pick up a Hampshire Down for the gimmers.
This is a significant rise in the average cost per tup since the project started. In the first year of the programme, the Duguids spent an average of £320 per tup, rising to £550 last year. So far in 2020, it looks like the average will be above £700 per tup.
What Arthur looks for in a tup
Arthur said: “Prices are certainly are up while the quality of the animals is similar. What I look for in a tup are feet, legs and mouth. If he can’t walk, stand or eat, he is not much use to anyone. Everything else comes after that.”
In both 2016 and 2019, the value of lambs sold per ewe was around £100, while in the years in between, sale values of £130 and £120 were achieved. This demonstrates the volatility that exists in the lamb market. If the average price so far in 2020 continues, lamb sales per ewe could be the highest year yet. So far, sales have averaged £90/lamb, which at 1.4 lambs per ewe is worth £123/ewe.
Driving more lambs per ewe
One of the keys in the project is to optimise the number of lambs sold per ewe to make the enterprise more sustainable. Over the years of the programme, the Duguids have raised the number of lambs reared per ewe from 126% to 140%.
“Firstly we have been lucky with the weather these last few years,” said Arthur. “However, one of the key things we changed that made a real difference was moving the lambing date back from the end of March into the beginning of April.
“Ewes are lambed outside during the day and we bring them inside at night. Scott does the lambing through the night. Our two daughters used to give us a hand for lambing too but they are now in Caithness and Northern Ireland so we could be looking for another pair of hands for a couple of weeks come April.”
While output per ewe has been good, the biggest change on farm has been the increased ewe stocking rate. This has seen the number of ewes rise from five to nearly eight per acre. As a result the total weight of sheepmeat produced by the business has risen from just over 13t to nearly 19.5t from a similar area grazed. This was all achieved with a reduction in fertiliser from 222kg/ha to 174kg/ha.
To achieve this the Duguids have embraced rotational grazing and managed to sustainably increase the stocking rate.
Arthur is keen to point out that “We have made a big difference to our sheep enterprise. But if we can do it then other farms can too.”