Maximising lamb output per acre will increase farm efficiency

Farming Connect - 2012-07-02

Welsh livestock producers can become more efficient by shifting their focus from the price paid per head for lambs and beef cattle to kilogrammes of meat produced per acre.

According to sheep genetics specialist, Bayden Wilson, livestock businesses in Wales place too much emphasis on individual prices.

“The goal should be to produce as much lamb from the supply of feed available on a farm,’’ said Mr Wilson, of Focus Genetics UK. “Sheep breeders concentrate on the price they get for each animal rather than what they are getting from each acre they are farming. They need to maximise how many kilogrammes of lamb comes off that farm.’’

Matching efficient maternal breeds to faster growing meat breeds is a means of achieving this, he suggested.

Mr Wilson was a speaker at a Farming Connect knowledge transfer event at Pant Defaid Farm, near Llandysul, where a panel of livestock production experts met around 100 farmers to discuss efficiency and productivity measures commonly used in the New Zealand livestock industry.

The host farmer, Sulwyn Jenkins, runs a flock of 850 Highlander ewes in a Contract Farming agreement with Peter Jones . He uses Primera rams as the terminal sire.

He previously ran a flock of Mules and Texel crosses but the Highlander appealed to him because it is easy care. “The flock is easy to manage and does well off grass,’’ said Mr Jenkins, who supplies Sainsbury’s through the Prince’s Trust producer group.

Ewes lamb outside from April and the lamb mortality rate has fallen. “We are getting more live lambs and we don’t need to give them any supplementary feed,’’ said Mr Jenkins.

He admits he achieves fewer top E and U grades but neither do lambs fall below average grades. “We achieve consistent R grades and I’m happy with that,’’ he said.

There was advice at the event for beef producers too. New Zealand beef farmers insist on cows that calve unassisted as two-year-old heifers. “Anything that doesn’t achieve this is culled,’’ said John Absalom, a cattle specialist with Focus Genetics New Zealand. “We want a return from animals as quickly as possible.’’

He urged farmers to use the right genetics for their system with a focus on Economic Breeding Values. “We are not suggesting that what we do is perfect but we want to encourage people to challenge things. There is a huge variation in the genetics within a breed.’’

With the right breeds in place high sugar grass varieties can improve productivity, according to Andrew Cook, of British Seed Houses.”Over the years there has been consistent improvements in grass varieties with the latest Aber varieties offering 1.27t DM/ha over the lowest yielding varieties on the NIAB list which is even greater when compared with grasses which were bred in the 90’s.  With the significant rise in reseeding costs it is still a good investment with the benefit in yield and quality.”

High sugar grasses aid digestibility too, said Mr Cook. “Increasing digestibility by 1% gives an additional 20g daily liveweight gain in lambs and an additional 40g in beef cattle.’’

The event at Pant Defaid was facilitated by Ben Williams , Farming Connect’s knowledge transfer facilitator for Ceredigion and North Pembrokeshire For further information on Farming Connect call 01970 636565 or visit

Farming Connect, which is delivered by Menter a Busnes, is funded through the Rural Development Plan 2007-2013 which is financed by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.

Photos for this release:

Sulwyn Jenkins says his Highlander flock is easy to manage and does well off grass.