Seeds of change help a future-proof North Wales sheep farm

Genetics combined with a reseeding policy are helping a Welsh sheep farmer to sustain his business amid changes in farm support.

Iwan Jones leads a flock of 700 Welsh sheep on the Llŷn Peninsula.

He established the herd 10 years ago after returning from New Zealand, where he ran a contract mowing business.

His intention was to start a digitization business and, in turn, develop his own sheep business on 120 acres of permanent leased grassland and a few small plots of short-term leased land.

He introduced Aberfield genetics and this, combined with the deployment of a poor forage-based management system, allowed him to devote more time to his digitization and contract closure activities.

When he first established the herd, Iwan bred and sold traditional Welsh mules in small groups via social media.

“It was a time-consuming job, but that’s where most of the sheep business’s income came from,” he recalls.

He has since introduced maternal sire Aberfield to two-thirds of the herd.

This, he says, gave him a ready market for his sheep. Most are weaned in mid-July at 12 weeks, at an average of 30kg, and are all sold within a month.

“They can all go – up to 300 heads – in one day, on one truck and, in return, I get one payment, job done,” Iwan explains.

It uses performance data from Innovis to select specific traits, including growth rate; Aberfield-cross tup lambs finish at 18.5 kg from 12 weeks, the majority having sold a forage-only diet in November; 80 percent are in the R specification.

Iwan uses the EID to record and monitor weights at weaning and every three weeks thereafter to ensure the lambs are on track.

Its land management policy allowed the carrying capacity of the unit to increase from 500 original ewes to 700.

Ten acres are reseeded annually with a rapeseed-chicory forage mixture underseeded with a three-year-old ryegrass; this is grazed by the finishing lambs.

He describes the sheep that graze in winter on tack land as a “real game changer”.

“Although it was a painful check to write back then, it frees me up completely for the winter to focus on my digitization business. .

The paired ewes were previously calved indoors, but he now has enough grass to lamb the entire flock outdoors shortly after the ewes return in March.

“Aberfield crosses are easy to lamb and thrive on milk and grass,” explains Iwan. “There is also the added factor that I don’t have to make silage, which leaves more time for other businesses as well as for the sheep.”

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