Focus farms programme is an eye-opener for everyone
ONE of the most popular learning and advice programmes for farmers is about to come to an end.
Three enterprises in North Devon have played their part in the Focus Farms initiative, helping livestock rearing and marketing.
One of the three is East Alsery near Holsworthy.
This week we look at the pros and cons of the scheme for the farm's sheep breeder, Jenny Starr.
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Sharing her farm and her experience at East Alsery has proved valuable to Jenny as well as the many sheep farmers who have chosen to join in the Focus Farm visits and meetings.
The most recent gathering was at the Bickford Arms pub, near Holsworthy, a venue central to many agricultural holdings on Torridgeside.
The 15 interested sheep men and women heard experts explaining the intricacies of the trace elements needed by sheep in their diet and about the background to abortions and losing stock.
"I think the healthy livestock programme has been appreciated because there's so many different projects," said Jenny, who runs more than 300 ewes on the farm.
" I think I've had the most benefit from expert help and because the speakers have been here on the farm.
"The idea is that other farmers come and have three or four experts talk about the issues and they can ask questions.
"I've learned quite a bit along the way and made improvements. There are more improvements I need to make.
"As I've gone along I've found out what I could do better and that everything counts in health.
"There's a lot to get your head around."
Jenny keeps 400 Lleyn crosses and breeds her own replacements specifically for health reasons.
Her ewes lamb outdoors in April and ewe lambs lamb outdoors in May. Finished lambs are sold from August through to March direct to the abattoir.
The targets set for the farm included increased scanning to 190 per cent, improving her grassland and finishing the lambs faster.
With that target in mind Jenny planted forage crops in 2011 to finish the lambs on, carried out resistance testing in 2012 and instigated measures to reduce lameness including concreted handling pens, second foot bath to wash feet before they enter foot bath and restarted a treatment regime with guidance from a resident vet.
Other guidance was to bring in a teaser ram to compact lambing and to change the breed of ram to help with lamb finishing
The Focus Farm programme is 70 per cent funded by the Rural Development programme for England (RDPE) with commercial sponsors filling the 30 per cent gap.
The sponsors are Pfizer, Rumenco, Volac, Novartis, MSD and Vion.
Jenny wants to produce quality stock/meat and is doing her best to deal with practical constraints at Lower Alsworthy (the land, the weather and very low labour availability).
The focus on prime lamb production will stay, but keeping up the numbers of registered ewes does mean that she can keep her future marketing options open: there may be opportunities for selling ewe lambs or even rams at some point.