John & Sarah Yeomans, who farm at Llwyn y Brain, Adfa near Newtown are firm believers that productive livestock farming and conservation have always gone hand in hand.
“We have planted around 30,000 hedge and tree plants, some funded through agri environmental schemes and some from our own pocket over the past 25 years, says John, whose family hosted the Big Farmland Bird Count this month to demonstrate what birds are about at this time of year, known as the ‘hungry gap’ where birds nationally are struggling with food supply.
“Restoring habitats to create wildlife corridors work alongside our sheep and cattle grazing well, which in turn benefit from the shelter and shade provided,” adds John,
The Yeomans family consider the relationship between highly nutritious food produced from the 700 head of Beulah flock and the 70 Limousin, Belgian Blue cross suckler cows, and a healthy environment as being completely symbiotic, explains John, who invited neighbouring farmers to the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) event to take part in the citizen science programme to see what birds were about.
Sponsored by the National Sheep Association, the Yeomans are adamant that healthy livestock positively contribute to biodiversity and conservation but the business has to be viable in order to support the conservation and environmental work.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker comments: “NSA was delighted to sponsor this event and we’re very clear how important it is for farmers to be joining up with initiatives that help to support wildlife and biodiversity on farmland. John and Sarah are active NSA members whose farm is a good example of how sheep farming and positive environmental practices can work hand in hand and it’s really pleasing so to see people engaging with events like these.”
Matt Goodall from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust stressed the importance of the next farming scheme to be more flexible and inclusive and to highlight cover crops and supplementary feeding as ways to reverse farmland bird declines, but the payments must be sufficient.
“The aim of the Big Farmland Bird Count is to raise awareness of the great conservation work being done on many farms across Wales and to also highlight what can be done to help farmland birds survive this difficult time of year, so that the breeding populations are increased,” says Matt, who would like to see more farms involved in the initiative in the future.
“There is a great opportunity now in Wales to get things right in the next farming scheme and adopt principles of the three legged stool approach of the GWCT which is to improve habitats, exercise legal predator control and provide supplementary feeding through the winter hungry gap which has been proven to increase songbird population,”
“With the correct scheme and payments this can be done without impacting farm profitability,” says Matt, who believes the right agri-environment scheme is essential in helping farms achieve this.
“We take wildlife seriously and love to see what birds are thriving on the farm and what the results are as the trees and hedges around the farm mature,” explains John, who said that once the official count was done with Matt, the family were back outside with binoculars and books to see what else they could see. “It’s quite infectious and an interesting exercise,” says Sarah.
“Our farm has been part of a couple of Welsh agri-environment schemes over the years recognising the need for biodiversity,” adds Sarah, who points out that sadly it has been difficult for their type of farming to enroll in many of the previous schemes.
Producing efficient lamb and beef from the farm is critical. With good grass growing ability the farm lends itself to this mixed farming rotational grazing system which leaves areas to rest favouring some birds who prefer different grass heights and open spaces such as the Lapwing.
“We do stock quite heavily here but using 24 day rotations means we are keeping our soils healthy and continually building up organic matter into the soil which also captures and stores vast amounts of carbon.
Both the flock and herd are closed with all female replacements home bred. Male lambs are sold at around 22kg compared with 14kg when John came back from college in the ‘80s with a lambing percentage of around160 compared to 90. The aim is to finish lambs from as much from homegrown forage which includes turnips and silage, but partly due to the weather the last lambs are finished inside on silage and blend.
“We need to try to be efficient and for us that means embracing all the technology we can, recording weights, growth rates and back fat and eye muscle scanning, and continually testing to see what is working and what needs tweaking. We are always looking at reducing worming products for example to make sure we don’t build up any unnecessary resistance.”
“It really is all about selection,” says John and Sarah, who use AgriWeb software, where all information can go straight onto mobile phones where informed decisions can take place.
Around 320 Beulah ewes are bred pure with the remainder, alongside ewe lambs crossed with Blue Faced Leicester sires. Welsh Mule ewe lambs and surplus Beulahs and draft ewes are sold in Welshpool Market.
Selling some beef and lamb direct to consumers through a box scheme for many years, the Yeomans think it’s important that farmers get in front of the customers with their product and the story behind it, but it’s hard work and delivery is time consuming, explains John, who is now just keeping it more local.
The suckler herd are served by Limousin and British Blue and Canadian Speckle Park bulls. Young cattle are sold in the autumn and again in February and April, in Knighton market. Pedigree Limousin bulls are sold privately from home.
John continues: “We have to engage with the public as much as we can to help them understand what we are doing. The BFBC is a great way to gather people to make the connection between profitable farming and a thriving wildlife. We need to get our positive messages over and show that Welsh farmers really do care.”
The BFBC was extended for a week because of the weather. Everyone was encouraged to get involved to see what birds are responding to the conservation efforts being made by so many Welsh farmers www.bfbc.org.uk
Notes to editors
The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – providing research-led conservation for a thriving countryside. The GWCT is an independent wildlife conservation charity which has carried out scientific research into Britain’s game and wildlife since the 1930s. We advise farmers and landowners on improving wildlife habitats. We employ 22 post-doctoral scientists and 50 other research staff with expertise in areas such as birds, insects, mammals, farming, fish and statistics. We undertake our own research as well as projects funded by contract and grant-aid from Government and private bodies. The Trust is also responsible for a number of Government Biodiversity Action Plan species and is lead partner for grey partridge and joint lead partner for brown hare and black grouse.
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