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,
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
"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
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: email@example.com
Chief Vet at Welsh Sheep 2007
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