Southdown tups key to achieving the financial outcomes from commercial flock
Cost of production and profit margin are critical figures that Clive Pullin applies to each of the multiple enterprises that make up his farming business.
This means placing emphasis on margin per head for lambs produced by his 990-head sheep flock.
“Amongst other things, I’m a dairy farmer so everything comes down to margin,’’ admits Clive.
“My goal with the sheep is to receive an average of £71 a lamb after commission – in 2018 I averaged £71.50 for 3000.’’
Using Southdown tups is key to achieving those outcomes.
“They are producing good numbers of lambs and we sell them swiftly, it’s a simple system and these lambs are earning the right money,’’ says Clive.
Committed to Southdowns
The sheep flock at Thatcham Pond Farm, Stowe, Buckinghamshire, was established in the 1970s. Southdown tups have been used for 25 years, a reason for their endurance is that the breed allows the family to market lambs all year around.
The Pullins were introduced to Southdowns by former breeder John Goode of Kites Hardwick, Rugby, Warwickshire.
Twenty-two Southdown rams, two Suffolks and a Charollais are now used for tupping the 800 Mule and 190 Suffolk-cross flock.
For many years, the Pullins have sourced tups from Southdown Sheep Society president Lesley Mead, among other breeders.
“The children scan the newspapers and magazines to see what our options are,’’ says Clive, who is married to Nancy and has three sons, George, Harry and Joseph. He describes his mother, Ena, as the sheep expert in the business.
Tups are turned in with the ewes in the last week of September, to lamb between February 20th and April 1st.
“The Southdown is very easy lambing, last year we only had to assist half a dozen, if that,’’ Clive recalls.
Another reason why he favours the Southdown is because lambs need very little concentrates to finish.
Clive aims to sell between 400 and 600 lambs by July 1st, with 90% sold through Foscott Market, Buckingham, which operates on one of his farms, or at Thrapston, Northamptonshire.
Clive’s farm is adjacent to Silverstone race circuit and comprises of owned and rented land – 640 hectares (ha) belonging to the family, 190ha rented and 65ha farmed through other arrangements.
He returned to the family farm in 1995 after working in Australia for a number of years and later at Rugby livestock market and in the financial sector.
He has since continued to develop the family’s arable, dairy and sheep enterprises.
The busy farm moved to robotic milking five years ago, but still requires nine full time employees working with Clive.
“Many farmers in the area gave up dairy cattle 10 years or more ago, but our soils are difficult for continuous arable production without a supply of organic matter,’’ he says.
“I anticipated that if we lost the cattle our arable crops would suffer through loss of soil conditions due to lack of manure so we kept the cattle, but moved to robot milkers to save labour and increase our milk yields. We care for our soils and nurture them to get the best results.’’
Eight robot milkers were installed with the 300-cow Holstein Friesian herd producing an annual milk yield average of 9000 litres.
A zero-grazing feeding system is in place to enable grass to remain a key part of the cows’ diet during housing. “I work on the assumption that we have a nine-month winter,’’ says Clive, who uses the sheep flock to manage the zero-grazing system.
He adopts the unusual approach of turning the flock onto emerging cereal crops, grazing all the winter cereal ground with sheep.
“I grow a nice crop and allow the sheep to graze some of them to the ground and to just take the tops off others,’’ he explains.
The sheep are then removed and slurry spread on the crop.
“It is quite a traditional approach, I am the odd ball doing it, but it suits me and the sheep numbers,’’ says Clive.
“And it doesn’t affect our crop yields, we get good yields from this system. Our lambing percentage is good and our cull rate is pretty good too so it works.’’
Eighty per cent of the flock grazed rape until the beginning of January, a crop that will be harvested in August.
“We turned them onto oats and barley after the rape and will graze the wheat according to what it needs,’’ Clive explains.
Minimal feeding With a sharp eye on cost of production, he only feeds concentrates to triplet-bearing ewes.
Twins are offered fodder beet two weeks before they lamb and the singles a week before lambing, when they are housed.
There is no long-term place in the flock for a ewe that produces a single lamb. “If a ewe is having a single she doesn’t stay in the flock,’’ Clive explains.
He keeps a young flock, drafting out for sale in-lamb singles or those with one lamb at foot.
Scanning percentage mostly averages 206% but, following challenging weather conditions in 2018, the flock scanned at 188% this year.
The sheep are also used to manage grass levels on Silverstone’s car parks and camping sites, land which Clive rents.
This land is unavailable for several weeks of the year when major motoring events take place, but providing camping adds a lucrative additional enterprise to the farm, particularly during the British Grand Prix.
“We need to keep the pastures nice and level for that, so we manage that with the sheep. We graze the fields up to the summer and then mow,’’ says Clive.
He also hosts more than 1000 sheep on winter tack, growing stubble turnips as part of their diet.
The complexity of the farming enterprise means that everything needs to be done by date – the flock for example is shorn between May 5th – 10th, ahead of silage making.
There have been many changes in agriculture since Clive returned to the farm a quarter of a century ago, but Southdowns continue to deliver on expectations, so he has no plans to change his breeding policy.
“As long as we can keep getting a supply of rams we will continue using the Southdown,’’ he says.