Getting ready for winter – Graham and Michael Rutherford, View Law and Blackpool Farm, Longhorsley, Northumberland

Published 23 November 18

IMG_2007Graham and Michael recently hosted one of the AHDB Beef & Lamb workshops on planning autumn and winter feed for sheep. The workshop involved Phil Creighton from Teagasc, Ireland’s agricultural and food research, advisory and training body, and AHDB’s Liz Genever.

The brothers farm 1,900 ewes, which are mainly Lleyn, with an increasing number of Easycare ewes, and lamb outdoors in late April. It is an organic farm and they also have pig and poultry enterprises on the farm.

In July they took the decision to sell the top draw of lambs as finished and then the majority of lambs as stores because grass growth was limited and no winter forage crops were in due to the dry season. This decision worked extremely well as they are heading into the winter with enough grass and forage crops and multiple options to deal with the next six months.


Their feed demand in early October was around 22 kg DM per ha (see Table 1). This is based on sheep being allocated 2.5% of their bodyweight as dry matter, which is appropriate approaching tupping as a rising plane of nutrition is beneficial. This can be compared to grass rates to see if pasture covers will drop and at what speed. For example, if grass growth is 15 kg DM/ha then average pasture covers will drop by around 49 kg DM/ha per week (22-15 = 7 x seven days). 

Beef Case Study 1

They are planning to all-grass winter (AGW) around 500 ewes from tupping, which is where sheep are kept at a high stocking density but moved daily onto another paddock. The brothers were involved in some trials on AGW over the last four winters and it works well for them. They have learnt not to put young sheep into the system as they can struggle which meant their scanning percentage dropped. The other 1,400 ewes will be set-stocked over tupping, however if grass continues to grow well, more ewes may be put onto an AGW system for some of the winter. They also have 200 ewe lambs on the farm over the winter, as others are away-grazed.

Before tupping, some of ewes were strip grazed on longer grass swards to ensure they were tidied up before the winter and it also allowed the covers to build on the rest of the farm, which is important for AGW. The paddocks that have been strip grazed will then be shut up for the winter.

They have 13 ha of a rape/kale hybrid drilled and the crop is looking to yield well with the target of 6 t DM per ha. It will be block grazed by ewes during January and February. Around 20 ha of deferred grazing is available in March for ewes, which will hopefully mean they can set-stock on the lambing paddocks. Any triplets or lean ewes will be set-stocked lightly on some red clover leys to ensure their requirements are met.

There is an option to house up to 1,000 ewes from January through to March as big-baled silage and hay is available. The ewes will be mid-gestation so requirements will be similar to maintenance so conserved forage should be enough to meet their needs. This will help to reduce the demand on the ground and allows covers to build for the spring.

AHDB Beef & Lamb recently produced a podcast with Phil Creighton from Teagasc on planning winter feed options and how to set up grazing rotations for the spring. You can listen to it here.