Across the four of our programme farms which have sheep, the gross margin per hectare has risen 18% since starting in 2016. When you look at the low ground farms, the rise has jumped 27% over the same three years.
This has been thanks to better grassland management, often including paddock grazing, moving lambing dates to reduce feed costs, improving the sheep genetics to suit the farm and better ewe body condition management over winter.
In year one, all the farms were independently benchmarked. The three low ground farms, Websters, Duguids and Biffens, all achieved £555GM/ha. This rose to £862GM/ha in 2017 before the impact of the “Beast From the East” snow storm in spring 2018 saw margins fall to £715GM/ha. The most recent accounts from 2019, which include last winter’s fodder price spike, showed £705GM/ha.
The lamb liveweight gain/day since 2019 has risen from 160g/day to 195g/day. Meanwhile, the time to slaughter has dropped from an average of 29 weeks to 23 weeks. These changes have been largely down to better grassland management, with paddock grazing allowing the sheep to eat better quality grass over summer.
Hill sheep performance
At Auchriachan Farm, where Andy and Debbie Duffus farm near Tomintoul, they have seen their GM/ewe jump from £24 to £43, while ewe numbers have dropped from 615 ewes to 456. Although these numbers appear to be modest, they farm from 1,600ft up to over 2,000ft on 1,600ha of mainly hill ground.
The poor lambing weather and the expensive winter of 2018-2019 resulted in the fodder and bedding price per ewe jumping from £3/head to £10/head
One of the big drivers in improving the gross margin has been moving from 13% of lambs sold fat to 80% being finished on the farm. This has improved their lamb values from £51/head to £84/head.
The poor lambing weather and the expensive winter of 2018-2019 resulted in the fodder and bedding price per ewe jumping from £3/head to £10/head. The margin per hectare for that year dropped to only £4GM/ha before rocketing to £43GM/ha in the most recent benchmarking.
Saving feed by moving lambing
The Websters at Ardhuncart have kept their ewe numbers just under the 200 since 2016, with the biggest change being the date of lambing. The value of the lambs in the market has remained constant at £82/head. However, by moving the lambing date back three weeks they have reduced their feeding and bedding costs per ewe from £73/head to £16/head and as a result have seen the gross margin per ewe jump from £3/head to £58/head.
Match breed, farm and system
The Biffens at Arnage have changed from Suffolk cross ewe to a Mule type to better suit outdoor lambing as shed space is at a premium in the spring.
The Biffen's mule gimmers at Arnage.
The plan is to increase the number of lambs produced through better genetics. This year, they are lambing just over 200 sheep with 75% gimmers to get a swift genetic change in the flock.
Getting more sheep per hectare
On the Duguids’ farm at Mains of Cranna, they have successfully managed to increase the sheep stocking rate from 5.5 ewes/acre to eight ewes/acre.
The Duguid's have successfully increased their stocking rate from 5.5 ewe/acre to 8ewes/acre
This has been achieved through better grassland management which includes rotational grazing. As a result, lambs have been finished quicker, allowing winter fodder crops to be freed up for ewes which in turn has left more grass for thriving spring lambs and ewes.
Small changes add up
The changes across the farms have delivered an increased margin per ewe and per hectare on the farms. On some farms, like Duguids’, the sheep have been kept on a smaller area, freeing up more land for other enterprises without compromising output or costs.
By simply moving lambing date three weeks, the Websters have managed to slash their feed costs
Getting harmony between sheep breed, lambing system and your farm type is critical to maximising margins as we can see with the changes on Biffen’s farm.
By simply moving lambing date three weeks, the Websters have managed to slash their feed costs and increase the bottom line on their ewe performance.
By finishing more of their own lambs, Debbie and Andy – who run a challenging hill farm – have seen more returns per ewe.