A willingness to trial techniques even when they risk failure has helped a Welsh upland farm successfully integrate regenerative practices compatible with its own sheep farming system.

Sam and Will Sawday and their mother, Penny Chantler, run a flock of 1,500 pedigree New Zealand Romneys at Hill Farm, near Hay-on-Wye.

By building organic matter and soil biology through mob grazing and reducing herbicide, insecticide and wormer use, the business no longer relies on synthetic fertiliser to produce feed.

“Regenerative farming was a natural progression from our low-cost forage-only system, we have taken it to the next level,’’ Will explains.

The business needs to be financially robust so the regenerative practices it is adopting must satisfy that goal, and its social and environmental ambitions too.

“We are very keen on monitoring but the benefits we see are a lot less clear cut than simply producing more lamb from an acre of land or at a higher weight,’’ says Will.

“Having more wildlife on the farm is indicative of a healthy system though and that means healthy plants and healthy livestock and fewer inputs and treatments to get the same level of performance.’’

Glyphosate is the only chemical now applied to the land and the quantity used has been halved by mixing it with fulvic acid.

This improves the effectiveness of glyphosate used at low rates and buffers against some of the damaging impacts to soil microbiology.

After applying the mix, chicken manure imported from a poultry farm is spread and the land is direct drilled with brassica mixes, mostly swedes, turnips and kale, but also cover crops with clover, Italian ryegrass and chicory.

Twenty hectares are grown as winter grazing for pregnant ewes.

The flock in run in three equal mobs. The size of the grazing paddocks varies but the aim is to not have the sheep are in the same one for longer than four days to prevent re-grazing.

How long will depend on the size of the block – it can be 12 hours or four days – but it is typically short bursts of high impact grazing to encourage regeneration.

“We used to have short rest periods of around 25 days when we mimicked the New Zealand model but in the last few years have been trialling the tall grass grazing model – graze a third, trample a third and leave a third,’’ Will explains.

“We are now at a point where we have a hybrid of the two.’’

As a sheep-only system, worms are the biggest limiting factor but the family has been breeding for resistance for 20 years as a part of a ram breeding program.

The protocol is to select a cross section of 120 ram lambs and expose them to a worm challenge, allowing the mob count to rise to 800 eggs per gram (epg).

Animals are weighed before and after to track growth and individual worm egg counts are taken to asses burden levels.

“We feed this data into our EBVs to produce worm resistance breeding values,’’ says Will.

“Some animals will grow very well through the challenge and have a low FEC – these are the animals we want to keep and sell to customers.’’

Those that lose weight are susceptible and won’t be retained.

“All sheep that get fly strike are culled as our aim is to eliminate all fly sprays in the near future,’’ says Will.

He sees breeding sheep fit for a low input, regenerative-style system is the most effective way for the farm to transition to this, with smaller, hardier sheep that can tolerate fluctuating weather conditions and feed type and quality.

“Sheep with a combination of excellent foraging ability, vigour and disease resistance are the animals that win,’’ he suggests.