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    Family Hosts Welsh Sheep 2007 with Pride
30/04/07

Family enthusiasm is a key element of the success story that is Graig Farm, high above the rolling Gwent countryside between Abergavenny and Ross on Wye. And no-one is prouder of that fact than farmer and Welsh Sheep 2007 host, Nigel Turner. He farms in partnership with his wife, Bev, who does all the farm accounts, and with his astonishingly energetic 74 year old mother, Jean.

Welsh Sheep 2007 host,
Nigel Turner

Welsh Sheep 2007 host, Nigel Turner

The venue promises to be spectacular and the farming system to give plenty of food for thought. Graig Farm runs to 617 acres and rises to nearly 1400 feet above sea level, high above the village of Cross Ash. Views extend to nine counties, as far as to Oxfordshire, Shropshire, and Devon – the Beacons tend to obscure nearby Brecon!

Nigel takes great pride in farming in a traditional manner, using as much home grown fodder as possible and drawing on the farm's natural advantages. It's set in a half moon shape, so that half is south facing, with grass 'taking off' in May and lasting through the summer. The whole family, including son Mathew a student at Harper Adams and Oliver in his last year at the local primary, are involved in running the enterprise.

Nigel's mother, Jean, bought the farm with his late father, Bill, 36 years ago and still plays an active role in farm life. Wife, Bev, is equally energetic. She works four days a week with the Hereford Cattle Society in Hereford, is chief home maker, and tireless voluntary worker, and appears to effortlessly manage the mound of accounts and paperwork that is such a fundamental but time consuming part of life on the farm today.

There are one hundred quality predominantly Aberdeen Angus suckler cows and 1100 mostly Welsh Mule breeding ewes. He also has some Berrichon du Cher crosses and some Texel cross and a small flock of pedigree Berrichon du Cher, which belong to son, Mathew, who takes a keen interest when home from University. Younger son, Oliver, also helps his father - when not playing football!

"This used to be classified as a hill farm", says Nigel. "But it's not a hard farm. And we try to make life as simple and straightforward as possible.

"We have always tried to feed the stock from what we can produce on the farm. It chimes with today's preoccupation with green issues and delivers full traceability, but it's something I have always believed in.

"Last year we bought in just 17 tonnes of peas, 11 tonnes of oats, and 16 tonnes of wheat. It all came from a farm down the road. We mostly use Texel rams, but we put the Berrichon on our yearling Mules for easy lambing. They have a smaller head.

"Everything is scanned for ease of management and feeding. All the lambs are sold finished at local markets and we keep fifty ewe lambs back as replacements."

Nigel keeps the ewes on for as long as possible with some having produced six crops of lambs. The first to lamb are sponged and lamb in February after being housed around Christmas and then kept in, lambed, and allowed out once the weather is good enough. Last year the date was 23 March and this year it was three weeks earlier on St David's Day.

The main flock of 850 begin lambing at the end of March, with almost half set to lamb in the first week of that period. They are brought in at point of lamb and go out as soon afterwards as possible. Those carrying singles are just fed with hay and have access to mineral blocks, but those with twins and triplets will have been fed, predominantly on root crops, with strip grazing of kale which brings the hay consumption down by about 90%. A cereal mix is given in the last few weeks before lambing.

"They enjoy the kale and it's a good protein high in energy and shouldn't give problems with twin lamb disease", he says. "We also get very little problem with prolapse. You don't get fat ewes and with a moist, greener, vegetation you're not so likely to overfeed. The ewes can digest it easily".

Graig Farm isn't a traditional arable farm, but because Nigel grows roots, the oats and spring barley fit naturally into the system and he finds it's also a good way of breaking up tired leys. The fifty acres or so of cereals and fifty or so acres of roots are he says a very cost effective means of feeding his stock.

The team also includes workman Nigel who lives on the farm with his partner Jenny and their son Jack. Nigel is highly valued member and is heavily involved in all aspects of the day to day running of the farm.

The suckler cows which calve between October and the end of April before being turned out onto grass. Again, the breed has been chosen not just for the quality of its meat but also for ease of calving and for their temperament, hardiness, and ability to 'do well' on grass.

The calves are all sold between the ages of 13 and 24 months at local markets. The lambs, too, are sold there in one of the three 'green' markets because Nigel is a keen believer in live markets which, he says, prevent the supermarkets from having complete control over pricing.

He believes the Foot and Mouth outbreak highlighted the importance of the livestock markets. It had given the buyers the opportunity to pay well for deadweight and that if they had then everything would now be going deadweight

Foot and Mouth was a 'dreadful' experience for the Turners. They had 2,300 sheep and 430 cattle taken out on the contiguous cull. Jean, feels the loss particular keenly because she says that she lost 46 years of breeding stock in just three days.

It did, though, give the family the opportunity to buy in fresh stock with a view to ease of management and quality lamb and beef production. And that, coupled with a low cost feeding system, and some of the finest views in the country should be an inspiration to visitors to Welsh Sheep 2007.

Welsh Sheep 2007 takes place at Graig Farm, on 23 May 2007. The main sponsor is HCC.

More details from Helen Davies, National Sheep Association Cymru
Tel: 01938 590535 Email: helen@nationalsheep.org.uk

link Chief Vet at Welsh Sheep 2007
link Scottish Sheep Event to Benefit All
link NSA North Sheep 2007: a seminar schedule to inform and inspire

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National Sheep Association