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Social media provides new route to market for lamb producer

For some, social media isn’t just a pastime, it’s a key business tool which can be utilised to connect with wider audiences, and there is now a growing trend of innovative farmers who are discovering the benefits of this networking platform.

Steve Penberthy and Ryan Came-Johnson run a flock of pedigree Lleyn sheep as well as a commercial flock on their rented Cornwall farm, and have used social media to find their own route to market, selling lamb directly to restaurants.

“Twitter has been a hugely important business tool. I can see a steady increase in farmers being more tech savvy, and not just going with how it’s always been done,” explains Steve.

“Social media was what really kicked it off for us (@Cornishlamb). We started out supplying lamb boxes through the local village, and then it’s just grown from there. Our aim really is to not sell anything through market or direct to abattoirs, but to try to sell direct from field to fork.

“We now mainly supply to restaurants, as well as the lamb box scheme. We chose that route because we can command a premium and control the market slightly better. We know what we’re selling for, and we found that the restaurants and the general public would rather come direct to us because they know exactly what they’re getting.

“The local restaurants want to know where the lamb has come from, the way it’s been reared, and they’re willing to pay that little bit more for that knowledge.”

Ensuring all of the lambs are reared from grass alone has been key to Steve and Ryan’s system, as they have found that restaurants are keen for grass-fed lamb. “The chefs have said to us that if you’ve had a creep fed lamb you can see and taste the difference in the meat, compared to a pasture fed lamb, and for us that’s our USP.”

This makes grassland management extremely important, as the pair need to make every acre count to support their flock.

We’re currently running about 70 acres on a rotational grazing system, but we have land rented in different blocks, so it’s not a ring-fenced farm. We rotate those blocks of land to make best use of the grass.

“Our soil is over granite, it’s pretty light soil, so it’s free draining. We can run the sheep outside all winter and not have to worry too much about poaching, which is how we can run a completely grass fed system. Apart from the 8 weeks during lambing, the ewes don’t come in.

“We monitor sward growth and grazing so we won’t let the sheep eat it right down. It’s mainly done on our knowledge of the field and how quickly the grass will come back once the ewes have moved on. High sugar grass (HSG) varieties of ryegrass are used combined with some timothy for an early bite and drought tolerance.

“This year we’re overseeding some permanent pasture with HSG tetraploids which is working very well and improving these poorer pastures. We’ll also be experimenting with introducing chicory and sainfoin into the mix on some of our lightest land this year.

“Ryan is an agronomist, which is a useful asset. We tend to broad spectrum soil test before drilling for micro and macro nutrients. This year, especially considering all the rain we’ve had, minerals have been washed out of the ground, so we’re keeping an extra close eye on it.

“We’ve never really seen major deficiencies in the ewes, but we use a number of Rumenco’s supplement buckets at key times of the year. They take them if and when they need them, and if they don’t, then we know they’re alright.

“Last year, due to the amount of rain we had, the grass kept growing through the winter and looking nice and lush, but it was actually more water than anything else, being low in dry matter (DM) content, so the ewes had a number of different buckets throughout the year and in the run up to lambing to support them.”

David Thornton, Rumenco technical manager, highlights the benefits of grass-fed systems, “Grass is a freely available source of nutrition for sheep, and the cheapest on-farm resource.

“Good pasture management is going to be key to avoid any further set-backs in lamb growth and development. Quality protein is key at this time of year, as ewes are supporting lambs as well as themselves.

“During the first five weeks, the feed conversion efficiency of ewes’ milk dry matter to lamb weight gain is at its highest, a ratio of 1:1, so ensuring ewes have enough quality protein to produce quality milk is key to producing healthy lambs that grow well.

“At this time of year, forages are often able to provide enough energy but not high quality protein. Magnesium deficiency is also common on rapidly growing pasture, often made worse by high potash levels in soil, while trace element issues are more common later in the season,” adds Mr Thornton.

“Supplementing with extra digestible undegradable protein (DUP), and the full range of micro and macro minerals, in the form of a nutritional block is a practical solution, capitalising on labour, ensuring flocks can utilise quality forage and grazing.

“With farm gate prices so low, finding a new route to market can provide success, but effective grassland management is important regardless of the system in order to increase efficiencies,” Mr Thornton concludes.

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