By Debbie James

The smallest changes can make the biggest improvements to the bottom line in livestock production as farm manager Victor Walkden is proving with his attention to detail and outstanding stockmanship.

At Cwmgwilym, a 430-acre upland beef and sheep farm near Brecon, Victor has helped farm owner Gareth Davies create a simple yet organised operation which makes full use of home grown resources.

Victor, the NFU Cymru/NFU Mutual Livestock Champion 2017/18, has worked at Cwmgwilym since 2000, when he arrived with his wife, Sandy, and their young family.

Their 17-year-old son, Edward, is now studying agriculture at Hartbury and their daughters are in London – 23-year-old Chloe works as a professional nanny and Bronwen, aged 19, is training to be a nurse.

Twelve months after they arrived at Cwmgwilym the farm had to confront its most challenging period when the industry was under siege from foot and mouth.

In the panic that swept the country, and in the government's desperation to stem the spread of the disease, millions of healthy animals were killed, including hundreds of ewes at Cwmgwilym.

There was no evidence of the disease in the livestock but they fell victim to the contiguous culling rules.

“We were heavily monitored for weeks, a lady from the ministry came here every ten days. We just had to keep our heads down that year,’’ Victor recalls.

The business steadily recovered and rebuilt the flock, emerging from the epidemic stronger and more efficient.

The farm is now stocked with 900 ewes and 95 Limousin-cross and British Blue-cross suckler cows.

The flock is made up of 400 Rouge x Beulah speckled face, tupped to a Texel or Beltex ram, and 500 pure Beulah speckled face – 200 of these are tupped to a Rouge ram to produce replacements and the remainder to a Beulah.

Lambing gets underway on March 10 and lambs are sold to St Merryn at Merthyr Tydfil from mid-June, with 85 per cent of the Texel crosses achieving E and U grades.

The point at which lambs are sold is dictated by price not weight.

“We set a price target. That might be £90 so we work out a lamb’s weight and killing out percentage and if that comes to £90 then it goes,’’ Victor explains.

“If we are happy with the price and we can get lambs away it makes space for another lamb. Every farm is capable of producing ‘X’ amount of lambs, it doesn’t matter how you do it.’’

Spring is also a busy time with calving the suckler herd. Calving gets underway in mid-April and half the herd calves in the first four weeks.

Calves are weaned at the end of January and the offspring sold at 11 months at Brecon mart.

Victor’s path into agriculture started when he grew up in a farming environment in Sussex, where his father worked for a farmer who also had a haulage company.

“While dad was away on long distance runs I would get stuck into the farm work and my love of farming started there.’’

He worked on several farms, mostly beef units, before taking up the job at Cwmgwilym.

Victor and Gareth work well as a team because Victor sees himself as production manager and Gareth as marketing manager.

As a family, they have shared his delight at winning the NFU Cymru/NFU Mutual Livestock Champion 2017/18 award.

In Victor’s opinion, one of the most prized qualities of a good stockman is patience.

“Trying to force things never results in a good outcome,’’ he insists. “It might be watching a cow calving or trying to get a calf to suckle.’’

He says the award sums up the values of the farm. “It is what we do here, we are stock and the stock are us.’’