Challenge Sheep is a new AHDB Beef & Lamb-funded project which aims to understand the consequences of the rearing phase on the lifetime performance of ewes. Covering both sheep bred as ewe lambs and shearlings, the project will track 9,000 replacements from a range of English sheep farms over seven years to understand how flock performance can be improved. The project aims to generate new knowledge and highlight existing information on managing ewe replacements.
Producers who take part in Challenge Sheep will be required to collect data via EID – weights, body condition score, lambing data and lamb performance. They will also be involved in several events over the years where findings will be communicated to other producers. A nominal payment will be made to Challenge Sheep producers for supplying quality data into the project and they will receive regular feedback and help with monitoring changes to their businesses.
More information on participating farms will be released over the coming months.
Challenge sheep farms
1. Phil Pearse
Phil Pearse manages the sheep flock at Park Farm, his family have been farming in the area since 1650. Phil is a keen sheep dog trainer and passionate about bringing innovative ideas to the sheep industry. He is looking forward to being able to compare his data with other farms and the opportunity to discuss best practice and innovation in livestock farming. Phil has a keen interest in genetics and wants to harness the knowledge and expertise from AHDB and his peers involved in the Challenge Sheep project to drive efficiency and improvement.
2. Gareth Beynon
Gareth Beynon moved from the Gower in South Wales eight years ago to Dorset. He has been working on the Rampisham Estate for three years and currently manages 1500 ewes. Gareth wants to see how ewes perform over their lifetime to ensure he is making the right investment in his stock from the start. He is keen to understand the reasons behind ewe mortality and feels the Challenge Sheep project aligns with what he wants to implement on farm. This may be looking at scanning percentages or monitoring body condition scoring from grass. Gareth also aims to see how different breeds compare against one another. The Estate will be expanding and he wants to ensure best practice is followed at an early stage so that a trialled system is adopted once the flock increases.
3. Robert and Anna Hawke
Robert and Anna Hawke operate their farming business from Throope Cottages, Bishopstone, near Salisbury. They are first generation farmers and started farming twelve years ago. They have been collecting data for more than 10 years and want to utilise it further to improve flock performance. One of the main reasons for joining the Challenge Sheep Project is the opportunity to access the cross exchange of information that will benefit not only their farm but also other farmers. They have no land of their own and no tenancies, operating purely on grazing licences, and due to this receive no single farm payments, but still have to operate in the constraints of various schemes. It is essential they make the business as efficient and productive as possible and hope being part of the project will help them to continually improve their farming business.
4. Matt Blyth
Matt Blyth manages Didling Farms in West Sussex where he runs a flock of 800 Lleyn and Lleyn x Aberfield. Having been involved in the AHDB Key Performance Indicators project, Matt would like to continue collecting and using the data he collects on the flock to drive the business forward. In particular he wants to gain a better understanding of the key factors in the management of young stock which influence future productivity. Priority areas are increasing scanning percentage and the effect of mineral and internal parasites on the performance.
5. Robert Hodgkins
Farming with his partner at Cherry farm in Herefordshire, Robert has been farming for nearly twelve years. A winner of Farmers Guardian sheep farmer of the year award, Robert farms without subsidy so is always looking for innovative ways to improve the farms’ profitability. Having spent time farming in New Zealand, Robert would like to apply and share this experience with UK farmers. The Challenge Sheep project will allow Robert to share his technical expertise and understand what is working on farm to assist with future breeding seasons.
6. Gareth Owen
Gareth and his family farm at Launde in East Leicestershire with a flock of Aberfield-cross ewes focusing on a forage based system selling all lambs dead weight, supplying both the on-farm butchery run by Gareth’s brother and a national processor. The farm was an early adopter of Electronic Identification technology and having been part of the Sheep Key Performance Indicator (KPI) project for the last 4 years is used to collecting data to aid management of the flock. There are questions raised from the KPI project and it is hoped that Challenge Sheep will continue to provide answers working with industry experts to help increase the farm’s profitability. Total mixed ration feeding has formed an essential part of the system maximising forage use in winter diets. Gareth is a firm believer of using informed decisions from all resources available to continually drive flock performance forward.
7. Jake Freestone
Jake is Farm Manager at Overbury Enterprises in Tewkesbury, alongside Reg Arch, who is the farm Shepherd and manages the day-to-day operations of 1200 ewes. Jake hopes that the Challenge Sheep project will allow him to gather more information from the flock so he’ll be able to better understand culling and the reasons behind why some sheep perform better than others. He hopes the Challenge Sheep project will help keep his farm sustainable post Brexit, as well as assisting in futureproofing the enterprise. Through farmer-to-farmer learning, Jake is looking to get best practice advice to help reduce replacement rates, increase scanning percentage, finish more lambs earlier and learn how he can adapt to outdoor lambing.
8. Sam Jones
Sam farms at Brookhouse farm, in Worcestershire. The farm has been in the family for around 90 years and he has been shortlisted as Farmers Weekly’s Sheep Farmer of the year 2017. Sam wanted to get involved in the Challenge Sheep project as he’s keen to gather as much information as possible that will enable informed decisions to be made on farm. He is a real advocate of gathering data and being able to interpret it to improve the success of the business. He hopes Challenge Sheep will help him to find simpler ways to interpret the data already collected and is looking forward to learning from the other farms involved in the project.
9. Kate Phillips
Kate currently divides her time between working at Harper Adams University (HAU) in Shropshire and working as a Sheep Consultant. Harper Adams has a flock of 1000 breeding ewes, and this year over 300 shearlings and 65 ewe lambs will be mated. The flock has recently expanded and the team is interested in gaining a greater understanding of the genetic base of the ewes, particularly in terms of ewe longevity. HAU already collect a wealth of data for pedigree recording with Signet, and feel the Challenge Sheep Project will assist the University with the latest educational teaching around ewe performance and management. Kate would also like to look at other areas such as increasing ewe efficiency, the lifetime performance of ewe lambs and shearlings and how to achieve higher ewe lamb growth rates.
10. Peter Webster
Pete Webster contract farms Matson Ground Estate based in Windermere, running upland beef and sheep enterprises. As a first generation farmer, Pete wants to ensure the sheep flock deliver financially. Prior to the Challenge Sheep project Pete was thinking about looking at the lifetime of his ewes independently, but as soon as he heard about the project, he felt it would make sense to share expertise with others. He wants to ensure that solid foundations are made in establishing the performance of the flock. Pete wants to continue to make the business both profitable and sustainable, and wants to look at whether he is using the right breeds and management to achieve this on farm. Reducing costs and losses on farm is also a key aim, as well as increasing outputs. By gaining advice from others on the programme, Pete also wants to look at improving genetics by better selection focusing on easy fleshing and prolific maternal lines.
11. Patrick Morris-Eyton
Patrick farms at Beckside Farm, which has been in the family for more than three hundred years. The farm plays host to around 1000 breeding ewes and they lamb around 100 hoggs. Patrick applied to take part in the Challenge Sheep project as he wants to see if he can improve ewe replacements and become more productive while expanding the business. He also hopes the project will indicate any problems in his ewe flock and wants to draw on the knowledge across AHDB to make his farm business more resilient.
12. Ian Wilson
Searchlight Farm has been in Ian’s family since 1932. It is a mixed farm with arable crops and 500 ewes. They have been in process of building a new farmstead on a green field site. For Ian, the aim of joining the Challenge Sheep project is to learn from others, and compare his farming practices with other farmers in the area and discuss best practice. He wants to be able to share ideas and see the similarities and differences between his farm and others. By gathering the data, Ian also hopes to improve the efficacy of the flock, with a particular focus on ewe fertility.
13. James Drummond
James farms at Lemmington Hill Head in Northumberland. He manages 1000 Aberfield and Aberfield- cross and is phasing out the old stratified flock of North Country Cheviot, half bred and Cross Suffolk ewes. As well as taking part in the Challenge Sheep project James is currently part of AHDB’s Progressive Sheep group. Alongside examining the effect on lifetime productivity of ewes, James wants to ensure he rears healthy, functional and profitable sheep. Increasing the farm output and breeding easily managed sheep is also an important focus. James completed a Nuffield Scholarship in 2015 on increasing ewe efficiency and spent time in New Zealand and Australia studying their ewe production systems.