Robert Hodgkins - Using genomic selection technology to advance the development of a ovine maternal breeding line
31 year old Sheep farmer from West Sussex.
Locks Farm is a tenanted 1,400 acre farm, most of which is situated within the South Downs National Park. 90% of our grassland in permanent pasture and is the farmed under the South Downs ESA regime where no fertiliser or chemical is permitted, therefore there is very little we can do to manipulate or extend our grazing season.
Productivity of some of the swards would be considered very low – the ESA agreement stipulates an annual maximum stocking rate of 3 ewes per acre. The farm rises up to 783ft above sea level, and field contours range from flat ground at home to steep banks upon the downs.
We are large commercial family run sheep farm running 3000 plus NZ Romney ewes. The farm is a spread out unit (25 miles round trip to visit every flock) on good to mediocre grassland, land class 3-5. We operate a single breed, closed flock and take great care and interest in selecting future progeny to make shepherding as enjoyable and stress free as possible. We are one of the largest Signet recorded flocks in the country, single sire mating and recording over 1500 ewes and there progeny per year. We sell high quality, NZ Romney rams and females, this year we have sold around 110 2 tooth rams, and all of the breeding females (800+) we had for sale.
Next stop was Mark Swift who runs a mixed farm sprawling over several thousand hectares, runs a small herd (600 head) of Dorpers, these were a native South African sheep imported in Australia in the 1996 via embryo. Since then although still a tiny % of the national flock they occupy a significant niche providing extreme robustness in very arid environments and with their wool shedding require minimal shepherding with the sheep left for large periods unsupervised. Although not a great finisher in terms of meat yield and growth rates Mark does feed out 2nd quality wheat from his cropping operations with the view he can add value to his farm by turning a low value product (Wheat) into a relatively high value product (Sheep meat)
Whilst on the farm I did get to see his cropping operations and was blown away by the scale I doubt I will see a 12m no-till drill in England with a 6000L hopper being towed behind it! It was simply huge! Also on the cropping I was fortunate enough to see how he windrows this Canola (Oil seed rape.) He was also running a Claas Xerion with a 12m windrower on the front on the rear hydraulics was a 3000L spray tank feeding spray nozzles mounted on the windrower so he was spraying roundup at the same time as windrowing which meant as soon as the rape was lifted by the headers (combine) he could get in there straight away with the drill. I must admit to feeling pretty envious of the amount of high horse big machines he had it was very impressive.
Another difference within the Australian model of farming was in the getting the grain to port. The vast hectares these cropping enterprises operate means a traditional tractor and trailer driving between the farm and the field isn't quite enough. A typical operation would involve 2-3 headers feeding grain into chaser bins that offload into a large trailer at the corner of the field, by large (and I have seen them!!!) I mean a trailer capable of holding over 160 tonnes of wheat!! That acts as a buffer offloading into road trains (trucks towing 2 trailers) which deliver the grain into a very large central grain handling store that all farmers use. These are always located next to a train line where the grain is then delivered by rail into port.
Mark also uses ground water sensors to determine moisture levels in over 1m of soil depth, and bases crop decisions on ground water content. One quote he gave which to me summed up quite nicely everything I had seen was “Farmers in Australia don’t farm cropping or livestock, we farm moisture and our job is to pick the system that will convert moisture to protein in the most effective and profitable manner”