Thursday, December 5, 2019

Sheep producer keeps close eye on flock

May 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Profiles

Leicestershire beef and sheep farmer Stuart Gowling has taken on more land. Simon Wragg reports.

A sharp increase in sheep theft and roadside slaughtering has seen Leicestershire farmer Stuart Gowling keeping a closer eye on his 550-ewe flock – a task helped by taking on land adjacent to the home holding.

Recent figures suggest 9635 sheep were stolen nationally in 2018 – a year-on-year rise of about 27%, according to the BBC. And concern is growing among livestock farmers, says Mr Gowling who farms with his father, Graeme, and wife, Chloe, at Park Farm, Swinford.

With the 2019 lambing season drawing to its conclusion and more stock out at pasture there’s growing need for vigilance, he adds. “The way some of the carcasses have been dressed on the roadside tells you this is a professional job and not some random theft.”

The family-run unit has been able to bring stock closer to home having taken on an annual let of an adjacent 52ha grassland farm.

Lambing takes place at Park Farm during February and April. March is a lambing-free month to fit around Erica Hankins – a farmer’s daughter and valued relief lamber who helps out annually. Ewes and lambs are then turned out to pasture across both holdings.

Local Butcher

“We’re running North Country Cheviot-based mules put back to Beltex and Charollais tups to produce a good meaty lamb for the butcher,” says Mr Gowling. “All our lambs go into Joseph Morris Butchers at South Kilworth from the end of May. At peak, we’ll be sending 80 a week.”

This is a long standing relationship and works well, he adds, albeit often getting short notice of numbers needed for the weekly kill. “We’ll get a call asking for what’s needed for the shops and often ending in ‘send in whatever you want; you normally do’ but it’s all light-hearted.”

Store lambs will also be bought later in the season depending on the availability of grass to be eaten off. This is balanced with the supply of finishing lambs from the Gowling’s own flock to meet the need of the buyer.

Demand for the business’ lamb extends beyond the butchers’ counter with breeders taking up to 100 ewe lambs annually. These are sold through private agreements annually and generally direct off-farm.

“We also supply Morris’ with finished cattle throughout the year – roughly four a week. Many will be stock from the 70 spring and 40 autumn calving sucklers we run which are put to either a Simmental or Limousin stock bull.

“Numbers are made up with my dad being a regular buyer of store cattle at Thrapston and Rugby markets. He also buys direct from other farmers.

“In the markets we’ll tend to look for anything from 10 to 26 months old and which has the potential to put on weight either at grass or – if they’re what we call three-quarters finished – go into yards and be fed a cereal-based ration from Berrystock Farm Feeds at Daventry.

“We try to buy at Co-op and sell at Waitrose prices aiming for a 400kg finished animal with a R-grade carcase for the butcher. Other finished cattle outside that (spec) are sent to abattoir group ABP at Shrewsbury.”


Including Park Farm the livestock enterprise covers around 243ha and is reliant on buying in straw for stock feed as well as bedding for winter housing from local farmers.

“We have in recent years put up a building in which to store straw as it’s a valuable commodity. There were plans in the pipeline for another building but concern over Brexit put that one on hold for the time being. But it is still part of our plan for the future,” he adds.

Daily stockmanship and paperwork tasks are shared with Mrs Gowling who also works as an agricultural administrator locally as well as bringing up two young sons.

The farm is supported full-time by Daniel Ford who is described as being ‘an asset’ enthusiastically taking on tractor work, maintenance and livestock husbandry.

But attracting and retaining staff is a key concern especially with a large number of livestock to feed, adds Mr Gowling, who describes himself as a definite stockman. “Dan was keen to do more tractor work so we’ve bought a three meter Accord drill to attach to an existing 3m Roterra.”

With grass covers rising, the farm’s KRM fertiliser spreader has been active applying a dressing on nitrogen as well as a pre-grazing top up of ‘zero-twenty’ on the adjacent rented farmland in a joint agreement with the landlord.

During the season two silage cuts across 32ha go into the clamp having grazed off some of the fields at the start of the season. With most farmed land now closer to home there’s more opportunity to keep a close eye on the sheep.

“Theft is probably our biggest concern,” Mr Gowling concludes.

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