he efforts of a farming college to equip the next generation with the skills to manage change will form the backdrop to NSA Welsh Sheep 2019 on May 21.
It will feature innovation, precision grazing and full use of modern technology deployed by Glynllifon Agricultural College, near Caernarfon in North Wales. These are coupled with traditional farming systems and husbandry skills to future proof the sheep industry.
The setting is a first for the organisers and presents them with its own challenges as well as opportunities. The Glynllifon site is owned by Grwp Llandrillo Menai College and the college authorities, with NSA Welsh Sheep, its sponsors and exhibitors are looking forward to showcasing the industry.
The Principal, Aled Jones Gruffydd, told journalists that he welcomed the opportunity to bring together the land based industries and organisations at the ‘hidden gem’ that is Glynllifon. he stressed the importance of trialling
new technologies on a commercial, working farm and relaying the results to the wider farming community.
And he added: “As a college we are an educational establishment and that is the primary aim of the farm, to offer young people an opportunity to work practically.
“If there weren’t students here we wouldn’t have a farm and if we didn’t have a farm, we wouldn’t have students here. So we have a relationship that works hand in hand between the farm and the educational side of things.”
Farm Manager and lecturer, Rhodri Manod Owen, said the 400 acres was run as a commercial entity. It was primarily an educational facility, but it had to pay its way.
It was a challenging time, but the college was looking at innovation. Staff have their finger on the pulse and are providing students with knowledge and understanding of innovative techniques to face challenging markets.
This included making better use of grass, looking at genetics and harnessing the inherent skills of students from family farms. They had often been working with sheep since they were four or five years old. They were being encouraged to be ‘very nimble’ to tackle any challenge.
he said: “We can’t do anything about markets, but we can do a lot on the farmyard and that’s where we are concentrating our efforts in the classroom. We are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
“We’ve put in genetics that can handle change. In the sheep section, we’ve ewes that could rear lambs off grass with no hard feeding. We’ve gone for a medium size ewe that’s very prolific, giving us numbers of lambs off grass.
“So if it comes to no hard feeding, then you have things in place already. With suckler cows, we have an easy calving Stabiliser cow and some Welsh Black cross breds in there as well, so they haven’t been in the shed for five years, they’ve been on a kale break feeding system, so we’ve stripped out probably in excess of £200 a cow in winter feeding.
“We’ve already worked on this because we knew the Single Farm Payment system was coming to an end. The writing was on the wall that we’d have to look at our costs. The dairy herd has gone down the cross breeding route, so we’re putting our faith in hybrid vigour.
“We’ve gone from pure bred holsteins and Ayrshires to three way cross breeding, to bring in the health attributes, lower antibiotic use and better costs, while maintaining milk solids and yields and fertility.”
The farm has 600 ewes and 200 dairy cows, with the students heavily involved in all the husbandry tasks. The fifty sow pig unit supplies pork to butchers’ counters in North east Wales, while the beef herd comprises 35 Stabiliser and Welsh Black suckler cows, out wintered on a break feeding, kale, brassica system.
he said: “The college prides itself on our students. If our students succeed, then we’ve succeeded and our students have achieved a lot of success in national competitions.
“We’ve been competing in the NSA now for 15 years and have had many successes. The current european Young Shepherd of the year is a student of ours, having finished the Level 3 Qualification last year.
“So over the last 15 years we’ve been consistently achieving the Best Young Student in the Under 21 sector. We’ve had european success and have competed on a world level as well.”
Rhodri stressed the importance of return on investment on the farm. he had an annual KPI meeting with college authorities, with benchmarking targets for every enterprise. It was also critical to ensure things flowed smoothly between education and farming and how they integrate – an example is that ewes lamb indoors to facilitate learning and balance demands on the farm.
NSA Welsh Sheep 2019 will feature almost two hundred exhibits and trade stands across a wide area, with seminars held in the college premises. The major sponsor hCC will, among other issues, stress the environmental benefits of Welsh farming, with grass based systems requiring fewer inputs while helping to regenerate soil and aid carbon sequestration.
There will be a comprehensive programme of things to see and do, including Sheep Dog Trials, a demo of Welsh Sheepdogs and the SRUC CT scanner will be present, British Wool will offer gear maintenance workshops from their stand along with workshops from other sponsors MSD, Caltech and Innovis in the college premises.
All details are on the website www.nationalsheep.org.uk/welshsheep/ NSA Welsh Sheep will be held at Coleg Meirion-Dwyfor Glynfllifon, near Caernarfon on Tuesday May 21 2019.