Swedes help cut feed costs and shorten winter.
REDUCING feed costs by "shortening the winter" is a key strategy being adopted at a Meirionnydd farm.
In an attempt to cut his winter feed bill and ease pressure on spring grazing, Rhidian Glyn plans to outwinter 250 ewes on swedes on his 530-acre hill farm near Machynlleth.
Swedes are a traditional winter crop, with an energy of around 12ME and 10% protein.
"The idea is that there won't be stock on most of the fields over the winter so I can still lamb on to quality grass in the spring," said Rhydian.
Grassland expert Charlie Morgan has working with Rhidian on the project at Rhiwgriafol, a Farming Connect demonstration farm in Talywern.
He calculated the swedes will yield about eight tonnes dry matter per hectare and provide more than three months of grazing.
"The crop is going to feed the ewes for about 5p-a-day, but if they're in the shed they will cost around 15p-a-day," Mr Morgan told a recent Farming Connect open event.
"Saving 10p per ewe for 90 days on 250 animals is quickly going to add up.
"In effect we're trying to reduce costs by shortening the winter as much as we can.
"Growing crops like this can improve winter carrying capacity, is cheaper and you're also improving the ground."
The swedes will be strip grazed with an electric fence to optimise utilisation, and a softer variety is being used to protect the ewes' teeth.
As swedes can be low in some trace elements, minerals will be provided.
The sheep will also have a runback to an adjacent field to prevent them becoming too wet and dirty, and to offer extra grazing.
Another important objective at Rhiwgriafol this autumn is tackling lameness in the flock.
Rhidian is working on a project with his vet Rhian Davies and Farming Connect technical officer Catherine Nakielny to implement a five-point plan for lameness.
Developed between researchers and farmers, results have shown the five-point plan can reduce lameness to less than 5% in the first year. The five steps are: 1. Treat: Rapid treatment helps stop the cycle of infection.
2. Avoid: Reduce opportunities for disease to spread between sheep via the ground.
3. Vaccinate: Vaccination improves individual immunity.
4. Cull: An aggressive culling policy in the first year to remove sources of infection.
5. Quarantine: Prevent bringing in problems with new sheep to protect existing ewes and newcomers.
At Rhiwgriafol, said vet Rhian Davies, an initial step was to work out what proportion of the flock was lame - and to identify the cause. Contagious Ovine Digital Dermatitis (CODD) was found to be the farm's main problem: at one point this autumn about 15% of the ewes were lame. The other two main causes were footrot and scald.