A Kiwi team is helping out on Robert Hodgkins’ farm in Hertfordshire, England.

The weather gods have certainly not been kind this year. We went from the wettest winter on record through to March when it suddenly stopped raining and didn’t start again until August when in the middle of harvest it suddenly hasn’t stopped raining!

We have had a good run of it though with the sheep, scanning was a little low this year with the previous year’s drought and very wet winter meaning we scanned at 1.55 usually the Romneys manage around 1.7 in our system.

We also had an outbreak of enzootic abortion in one mob of ewes which would have hurt our lamb losses, nevertheless we are out the other side and things on the sheep are very positive.

We have had a student help us this year who has been amazing. James came on board late last summer and quickly established himself as an awesome stockman. Within a couple of months he was very much running the show leaving me free to take on the arable jobs (arable guy left the farm in the spring). His dog skills and general livestock ability was incredible.

He has recently gone back to college for his final year, but has promised to come back and work for us full time when he finishes. He will be incredibly missed and I have had to put my dogs back on an emergency diet and fitness programme to try and bring them back into the front row. (The same goes for me!)

We are still waiting for SiL data to come back from this year’s crop of lambs. We should have made some good progress. We started last year with 500 unrecorded females and some high index Nithdale Myomax rams we flew over from Andrew Tripp.

When last year’s results came back we took the opportunity to drop a lot of the poorer index ewes out of the recording system – paying money to record shit didn’t seem a good use of money. We have now got a Kiwi consultant on board – Jo Scott from Targeted breeding is helping us try and drive our genetic gains forward I think she is really going to help us avoid a few traps and we are looking forward to her expert advice.

Our first step was establishing some good goals with one of the main ones trying to breed rams with a higher index than my father and brother’s Romney stud, (nothing like a good bit of family rivalry!) It will be a really, really tall order. His top rams on the NZMW index are rated around the 3400 mark, and are some of the best in the United Kingdom. Last year our top was 2300 – obviously figures are not everything and rams need to be structurally sound etc. But some good family competition will hopefully drive everyone forward. (Let’s just hope Jo gets us slightly more forward over the next few years!)

I think I have talked about it before but we are still struggling to get the arable fully integrated and firing on all cylinders. The sheep and arable should work very well together but all the tractor drivers we have had have been horsepower nuts – bigger is better and much bigger is best.

They have also had no real interest in the sheep or how we can make the two systems work together. I hope we have corrected that problem by bringing in a Kiwi manager to take on the arable, so we are very excited Monty White from Hawke’s Bay is flying over to take on the position.

Trying to get him across in the middle of a global pandemic has been interesting but it’s great that on his first day here he came for a farm tour, loved what we were doing with the plantain and clover fertility leys, understood why we are trying to use lower hp, lighter-weight tractors etc. So he seems tuned in to what we are trying to achieve and has bought into the system.

Finally we have just bought ourselves a sheep parlor – the plan is in 18 months we will start milking some Finn x Romneys, initially only 300 or so but hoping to take the flock to about 600 animals. It will open the door to some more interesting break crops on the arable with intensive red clover leys for the lambs and lupins for ewe lactating protein etc.

I will keep you informed of progress but it’s an exciting time ahead for the farm. Subsidies are scheduled to end in a couple of years. I think the farm is in an excellent position to take advantage of that fact and the opportunities it will present. With Monty and James on board I think we have a great team to help us.