By Debbie James

A Welsh sheep farm is growing 4tDM/ha/year more grass by adopting a rotational grazing system and managing grass well, allowing it to support a new dairy heifer rearing enterprise.

The Jones family run a flock of 850 breeding ewes at Llys Dinmael Isaf, near Corwen, with additional grazing at Plas Morgan, Llanuwchllyn.

The upland farm had been growing approximately 6.5tDM/ha/year and relying on bought-in concentrates, mineral blocks and hay to supplement the flock’s winter feed requirements.

Since putting a rotational grazing system in place on the home farm in 2018, grass yields have increased to 10.5tDM/ha, slashing concentrate use by 65 per cent, mineral blocks by 60 per cent and hay is no longer needed.

This has resulted in a cost saving of £13/ewe over the winter period.

The additional forage is supporting another income stream – there are currently 41 RI and R2 Holstein Friesian heifers, all purchased at four weeks old.

The R2s have been inseminated with sexed semen and sold as in-milk heifers. Heifer calves will be retained to assist in building future numbers.

Dafydd Jones, who farms with his father, Gordon, and brother, Alun, says rotational grazing has optimised the farm’s potential and allowed it to carry more stock to fully utilise the grass.

It also allows more fields to be locked up for silage, reducing winter feed costs.

There is strong emphasis on producing the best possible silage to reduce the need for supplements.

In the autumn, mobs of 320 ewes graze 1ha paddocks every two to three days whilst in the spring groups of 160 -300 ewes with lambs are rotationally grazed once the lambs are four weeks old.

In mid-summer, after weaning, groups of weaned lambs run as groups of up to 500.

Last autumn, paddocks were not re-grazed from mid-October, with a closing cover of 1750kgDM/Ha targeted by mid-December.

Ewes were then fed on root crops and silage.

“In previous years we would have grazed the farm later into the season, spreading sheep out across the farm, and they used to overgraze the swards which would have hit growth in the spring,’’ says Mr Jones, a Farming Connect focus farmer.

“If we are going to get the growth in the spring, I have learned that grass needs to rest for 100-150 days in the winter.’’

There is now sufficient grass to turn twin-bearing ewes out in mid-February to covers of 2000kgDM/ha.

“This spring it meant we could take the ewes off swedes for 21 days before they lambed whereas in previous years we would have housed them, using concentrates and silage,’’ says Mr Jones.

Grass analysis in February showed an ME value of 12.5 and 30 per cent protein.

“It’s the perfect feed during pre-lambing and lactation,’’ says Mr Jones.