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.
Farm visit of very high density stocking rates
Appears in Livestock
Monday Afternoon was then spent to a farm in Glen Engels to see a farmer running a merino flock on what is called a techno- grazing system in the UK it would be called high intensity cell grazing. It is a very clever system in simple terms you run very high numbers of sheep in very small areas of ground for a very short period of time So Robert had taken his paddocks and with electric fencing split them into very small areas of around 0.6 to 1ha and would then run 100-200 sheep on that area for around 4-5 days before moving them on to the next paddock, (stock numbers would vary depending on season)
Benefits are the ability to overstock considerably because the animals are confined to a very small area rather than selectively graze the field, they quite literally consume everything leaving the field completely eaten down, since introduction of the process average stocking rates on the farm have gone from 4-5 sheep per Ha to around 9-11 per ha.
This system also has the ability of very quickly wiping out less productive species of grass as well as making weed control a lot simpler (weeds are very simple to find and treatment is usually just a case of selective spraying with glyphosate) other benefits almost nil drenching – on a 5 day rotation with 45-90 days before you are back on the paddock the live cycle of most worms is broken meaning animals don’t get re-infected, as well as labour time being seriously reduced in terms of checking sheep. The fertility of the ground having so much concentrated manure on it is said to improve.
The electric fence system he had set up was very clever, all the electric wires on the property (usually 3 wires) had in built “springs” meaning you could step on the wires push them to the floor and the springs at the straining post would stretch to allow the wire to “give” Now on Robs quad bike he had developed this idea further and had mounted two round poles almost like a set of very oversized skis under the quad meaning he could drive up to an electric fence the wire would get pushed down by the tips of the “skis” and pushed all the way underneath the quad where it would then spring back into place – hence no gates on any of the techno grazing system. It was a very clever system and very strange to be sat on a quad driving into an electric fence!!
The Water troughs are another interesting point with the kiwitech company already designing small troughs that can be moved by hand as the sheep move from one field to the next, they have built water pipe connectors that can be pulled apart by hand with no tools and seal which was interesting to note. Another point I took away was on all there troughs the ball valve mechanism was underwater as the pipe came up from underneath the trough, not the more traditional side entrance. It did get me thinking that maybe this design of trough would be more resistant to frost and is something I will have a closer look at when I get back to England.
A more detailed breakdown of the system is available at the below address.
With a more detailed explanation of the kit required available here: http://www.kiwitech.co.nz/Hardware/Downloads/CatalogueNZApr2012.pdf
Could it work in England? I do know some people off some people already doing it Dr John Vipond had set up a trail in Cornwall http://www.fwi.co.uk/Articles/13/08/2012/134471/All-grass-wintering-system-brings-feed-savings.htm It certainly does have a place, you would have to have very well-draining soils to cope with that pressure of stock over such a small area and I would be amazed if you would not have to take the ground out of any environmental schemes it is in. Other factors to consider would be if a walker’s dog got among them it would cause an incredible amount of damage. Still as a way of “cleaning” paddocks it would take some beating and could be a way of small producers upping there stock numbers by making their own ground a lot more intensive.