Runner up sheep farmer of the year, Peter Hedley, is always adapting his farm plan to ensure it is a profitable business and the benchmarking is positive, to make what he loves doing worthwhile.

The firm held an open day last week, which attracted many visitors as well as speakers from some of the leading organisations in agriculture.

Throughout the day, there was trailer farm tours to the top of the hill, guided by Peter; Animax sheep demonstrations; sheep dressing demonstrations from the well respected, William and Laura Thomson, Howman Grange; stock judging classes with all proceedings going to ‘My Name’5 Doddie Foundation’.

The Scottish Farmer:

General farm tours took place, with tractors travelling to the top of the hill

Peter and Vicki Hedley moved to Swinside Townfoot, near Jedburgh, in 2012, on a two-year short duration tenancy, however, that was soon changed when a year later the estate decided to put the farm up for sale and they then purchased the farm.

“Although we knew it would be a financial challenge, it has certainly helped to concentrate our minds, everything we do needs to make money. We only managed to secure a mortgage because of our positive benchmarking figures and that we could prove our business was profitable,” said Peter.

Owning the farm has now allowed the team to run 1000 North Country Cheviot park ewes across 423 acres, along with an additional 250 acres on a grazing agreement.

The Hedleys run a pure-bred closed flock of which 400 of the ewes are kept pure to produce the replacement ewe lambs and tups to sell as shearlings, whilst the other 600 are tupped with a Bluefaced Leicester to produce Cheviot Mule lambs.

Along with this they also run a 15-20 flock of Bluefaced Leicesters to produce tups for home use.

To create extra monthly income, the team also contract shepherd a flock of 400 of their own bred Cheviot Mule ewes on a neighbouring farm. These are crossed with a Texel to breed a popular prime animal.

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The views from the steading looking on to some of their North Country Cheviots 

“Since taking on this role, we have managed to increase our profit per ewe almost three-fold,” said Peter.

Alongside the sheep, Peter buys in around 100-150 spring-born calves in the autumn where the majority are sold in spring as forward stores, to make space for lambing. The smaller ones are summered to finish the following winter.

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Some of the store cattle still in the shed ready for the grass

The whole farm is sown out to grass and since taking on the farm in 2012, they have tested and corrected all of the pH and P and K levels, fixed drains and reseeded more than 170 acres.

Grass seed specialist, David Eccles, spoke about the need for grazing stock and using the correct seeds. “At the end of the day we are trying to reduce inputs without losing production for farmers,” said Mr Eccles.

The cattle complement the sheep by keeping the grass right and the manure and forage aftermaths are a vital part of the grassland management.

The sheep are usually out on the grass all year round, except for the short period at lambing when they are brought in. This year, the flock intends to house the triplets and majority of the twins from scanning.

Ewes will be fed a silage based TMR. This ration is formulated by their feed supplier nutritionist, Davidsons Animal Feeds who make a bespoke meal, ensuring optimal nutrition for ewes at lambing.

“Every bite is the same consistency to ensure they don’t just pick out the ‘good stuff’. We adapt the feed to our customers, it is essential that it is unique to each farm. If something is missing in the silage, we will add more into the mix to ensure a unique balanced meal that consists of all key nutrients,” said Davidsons nutritionist, Steven Turnbull.

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The store hoggs are wintered in the shed since the Hedleys are short of wintering space this year, however, it has worked out well

Peter makes his own silage from young grass, cut early whilst it still has a lot of goodness in it. This also gives them the foggage aftermath for the lambs and makes those particular fields pay twice.

“This works nicely with our objective of making every inch of the farm work,” said Peter.

“Installing a silage pit in 2017 has helped us move away from baled silage. This has saved substantial costs and waste through reduced plastic, cheapened production and also improved the quality of forage, which has resulted in even better performance and growing efficiency of our stock.”

The strongest Cheviot Mule ewe lambs are speaned six weeks before the sales. The lambs are turned onto a foggage field and introduced to some Davidsons show bloom blend, feeding twice a day, to ensure they are strong enough for the first sale at Longtown.

The rest are sold privately from the farm, where last year the firm sold 446 in total to average £107. The wedder lambs are fattened off grass, with 3 in 1 feeders introduced as grass quality drops around late September.

All fat lambs are sold deadweight, through SK Livestock, which have a target finished weight between 47-48kg. They are drawn by themselves and aim to get the lambs as close to the 22kg limit as possible, to maximise returns.

The total flock output per ewe is £157, which equates to £928 per ha. This leaves a gross margin, after forage, of £99 per ewe.

Bob Kendal, of Alltech, highlighted the importance of reducing lamb mortality to increase profit for sheep producers by using management and nutritional strategies.

“For an average flock of 750 ewes with 150 lambs born/100 ewes a 2% reduction in lamb mortality is worth £1125 or £1.50/ewe, a huge saving for a small percentage,” said Mr Kendal.

One of the key ways is through ewe nutrition – minerals and vitamins. Selenium is one that typically is missed out, with an average of 45ppb below target in UK forage.

Sel-Plex is Alltech’s proprietary selenium-enriched yeast and natural additive for high producing animals.

Davidsons Animal Feeds sales nutritionist, Lorna Shaw, emphasised the need for feeding concentrate pre and post lambing, to produce more live lambs.

“According to the AHDB, average lamb mortality in the UK is around 20% from scanning to weaning. Increasing lamb survival increases profitability for producers, ensuring you provide the best nutrition possible is just one way of making a step towards this,” she said.

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The store hoggs are wintered in the shed

When it comes to profit, farmers that are able to make use of a quad and snacker can gain huge savings by swapping from blocks to compound rolls pre lambing.

“Feeding 0.3kg head/day of a good quality, fully mineralised 12.8ME ewe feed along with average forage is enough to provide the ewe with her required minerals and energy until eight weeks pre-lambing. One litre of energy blocks at £800 equates to 3600kg compound rolls in money terms.”

Pedter added: “We are sure that there will be many highs and lows in the future of sheep farming, but firmly believe anybody who produces quality stock, with a close eye on their costs of production will be able to succeed.”

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A sheep dressing demonstration took place from William and Laura Thomson, Hownam Grange