Welsh farmer demonstrates how good grazing management and sheep genetics is a winning combination

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Red meat producers from across north Wales gathered on a beef and sheep farm on the outskirts of Caernarfon last week to hear the latest results from two major industry projects.

The event was hosted by farmer Alwyn Phillips of Pen y Gelli, a participant in the RamCompare and GrassCheckGB projects which are jointly funded by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), along with the other UK levy bodies and industry organisations.

Experts Sam Boon of Signet, and Taro Takahashi of the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), spoke about the importance of utilising genetics and grass effectively and efficiently to capitalise on flock performance.

This was echoed by Mr Phillips who, whilst leading the farm walk, said: “You can achieve a high performance on grass if you’ve got the right genetics.”

He has been involved in the RamCompare and GrassCheckGB projects for several years since their inception and has reaped the benefits on his farm. These include reducing fertilizer use – and therefore its cost – by half, whilst also both growing and using more grass to finish lambs.

Mr Phillips is one of 12 beef and sheep farmers in Wales involved in GrassCheckGB, a project that across 5 years of UK data has recorded an average of 8-12tDM/ha, at 11ME and 19% crude protein with 80% being utilized. This is almost double typical figures across all UK farms. The grass quality is similar to values in bought in concentrate, so well managed grazed grass is not only the cheapest feed for our sheep and beef but is of high quality too.

He said: “I now understand how to grow grass and how to graze it, I know exactly how much of it I grow and I understand the strengths and weaknesses of each of my fields.

“What’s great about both projects is that they cover a number of years and therefore produce credible results and meaningful data that takes everything that can impact on performance into account.”

Mr Phillips added: “I feel that a combination of maximising the use of grazed grass and selecting sheep that perform well on a forage-based system is essential, and a way to prepare for the possibility of a life without production subsidies. Developing this system takes time and improvements in genetics – it doesn’t happen overnight.”

To date, the RamCompare project has evaluated 468 terminal sires (birth to slaughter data) which have over 44,000 progeny on commercial farms in the UK. Farmer Alwyn Nutting from Aberhafesp, near Newtown is one of seven RamCompare farmers in the UK who are testing high index rams across their commercial flocks, providing valuable information for other sheep farmers to use when they choose terminal sires.

He said: “The RamCompare project is important, it will hopefully influence the way that terminal sires are bred, making them more suitable for use in commercial sheep flocks in the UK.

“It’s important that you select the right sire for the goals for your flock, you don’t want to be aiming for extremes in growth and conformation if you want those rams to perform on a grass-based diet.”

HCC’s Dr Heather McCalman, Research and Development and Sustainability Executive said: “The purpose of the event was to demonstrate how sheep genetics and efficiently grazed grassland combine to produce a very high quality and efficient red meat product. These superior sheep genetics are available to all commercial farmers and the techniques for well managed grazing are becoming well recognized.

“A high performing, healthy and efficient flock can directly, and indirectly, contribute towards minimizing the carbon footprint of farms and therefore further improve the sustainability of the sector and help to tackle the challenges ahead.”