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Rumenco livestock feeds - Rumevite, Lifeline, SUPAlyx, Beetlic

TENANTS INNOVATE TO ACCUMULATE

You’d think that tenant farming a parkland estate with inherent grazing restrictions would
make many shy away from sheep production, but not Gavin and Abby Atterton. Far from
it, by putting innovation at the heart of their business they have boosted flock productivity
and built a profitable lowland sheep enterprise.

The Attertons of Vicarage Barn Farm, Tisbury in Wiltshire manage 400 acres of
permanent pasture for Fonthill Estates – a 10,000 acre holding to the west of Salisbury.
As Gavin is quick to point out, it’s not the most productive grassland for lowland sheep,
but grass availability has not stopped them lambing three times a year to produce a year
round supply of high quality finished lambs.

“We may be restricted on what we can grow – the estate clearly has to look good and for
that reason we’re never likely to sow any chicory or brassicas here – but that doesn’t
mean we can’t be productive. Most of our grazing is old permanent pasture, but we do
have around 11 acres of productive red clover that allows us to take a silage cut and
finish around 300-400 lambs with some supplementary feeding. The rest of the lambs
are finished in the shed,” Gavin says.

There are 1000 ewes at Vicarage Barn Farm with plans to increase to 1300. Despite the
challenging grass situation, lambing percentage averages 165% thanks to
supplementary pre-tupping feeding. Last year, only 11 older ewes were barren from the
1000 put to the ram. Around half the flock are Berrichon Du Cher cross Beulahs with the
rest predominantly Mules. The Attertons lamb in March and May, but have also recently
introduced a small flock of Dorset/Dorset crosses to start a third lambing in October.
In another example of unusual innovation, the Attertons shear all their March lambing
ewes in January and their May lambing flock in early April; a practice which reaps a
number of significant dividends, according to Abby.

“The main benefits are that it promotes higher lamb birth weights and easier teat sucking
because there is no wool in the way, but we’ve found winter shearing works well on a
number of levels. We lamb the March flock indoors in old cow kennels and if the ewes
had a full fleece they would definitely get heat stressed in this accommodation. Minus
fleeces we can also stock the shed more densely, yet at the same time see exactly what
is going on. And a ewe with no fleece on after birth is also far less likely to get struck
outside soon after lambing,” she points out.

Other positives include fewer mastitis cases and less mis-mothering in bad weather
conditions when the sheep do go outside, simply because both ewe and lambs have the
same fleece cover.

Abby acknowledges that the sheared ewes eat more feed in the run up to lambing than
on a conventional system, but argues the animals utilise the feed more effectively –
diverting it into healthy foetal growth, as well as putting on a condition score themselves
in many cases. “Both the ewes and lambs really benefit from winter shearing – so do we
too; it’s far easier to get the fleece off and you can always get the shearers when you
want them!” Abby says.

Maximising the nutritional value of what grass is available to them has been something
of a crusade for Gavin and Abby. “We do have to use a fair amount of supplementary
feed on our system and have spent some time refining the approach to maximise
productivity and profitability. It’s a challenge, but the system is well honed now for the
labour levels we can afford, which are essentially Abby part time and me,” Gavin says.

At housing, Rumevite High Energy & Protein blocks are introduced for ewes carrying
twins. Those with triplets also get some cake. Six weeks from lambing ewes with singles
gain access to the blocks and four weeks from lambing all ewes move onto Lifeline
blocks fed via wall gate feeders to keep intakes at the right level.

“We switched from a predominantly cake-based supplementary feed system in 2007
because it was too labour intensive. Using the blocks saves me two hours a day in
feeding time and they are also slightly cheaper. And we prefer the block to the tubs
because there is less packaging,” Gavin points out.

“The system is working well. You can always tell the mark of a good supplementary feed
by the way your replacements do on it over their first lambing. After all they are still
growing as well producing another sheep and this year our ewe replacements produced
some cracking lambs after being on Lifeline.”

Lambs are sold to Real Meat in Warminster. “We start selling the lambs at 12-14 weeks
old, but our grass is not up to pushing all of them so we finish the majority slowly. The
recent uplift in prices has been very welcome and is helping us maintain a very viable
enterprise despite our inherent restrictions,” Gavin concludes.

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