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Farming

Pembrokeshire mutton on top of TV chefs’ menu

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Mutton with menaces: Robert Vaughan (centre front) with Jamie (right) & Jimmy (left) with half-naked Pembrokeshire councillor Sam Kurtz, a worried sheep, and several other unclothed young farmers

GWAUN VALLEY beef and sheep farmer, Robert Vaughan, has put mutton on top of famous TV chef Jamie Oliver’s menu, which features in the current Channel 4 TV series ‘Jamie and Jimmy’s Friday Night Feast’.

Pembrokeshire hill farmer Robert, who is a member of the Farmers’ Union of Wales, was keen to highlight how versatile and delicious mutton can be and was delighted to show Jamie and Jimmy round the farm.

“Out of the blue one evening I had a phone call from the Jamie Oliver production team to have a chat about my farm and mutton for the new series, with the outlook of possibly coming to see the farm for themselves. I didn’t want to get my hopes up of course. We have done a few TV shows before but it’s a bit like a job interview, you never know 100% if you’re going to be successful. They kept bouncing questions across for few weeks and then all of a sudden we had a confirmed date.

“It was all getting rather exciting but nerve racking also at that point. But I just gave them my story, not pretending to be something I’m not, and showed them round, explained how we farm and for how long we’ve been here. And they decided to run with it.”

Carn Edward meats is part of the north Pembrokeshire family hill farm and comprises of 3 livestock farms working as one under the gaze of Carn Edward mountain, which unites the holdings of Llannerch, Penrhiw and the renowned Penlan Uchaf gardens & tea rooms.

It is managed and farmed by brothers Robert and Richard under the careful eye and guidance of their parents Dilwyn and Suzanne Vaughan.

Llannerch farm is situated on the floor of the Gwaun Valley at its highest point on what was once one of the busiest drovers’ routes and pilgrims way out of north Pembrokeshire. Once home to and farmed by Robert’s and Richard’s grandparents this is where their father Dilwyn was born. Over the years he helped run the milking cows and sheep alongside purchasing the neighbouring un-farmed and neglected Penlan Uchaf.

Many years were spent clearing pasture land of gorse, blackthorns and weeds with the unreserved help of his parents at Llannerch, revealing what is now a vibrant livestock hill farm – built on blood, sweat and tears.

“Before the filming actually started I sent them a few products up to taste in London. I sent them my mutton, and they got back to me and said that Jamie Oliver was impressed by it and came back with all these wonderful ideas of what to do with it. And by the start of May we were filming. Originally the plan was for them to come out and do a taste test of flash frying a loin of lamb and a loin of mutton, and giving it to a couple of people to see what they think. Job done and off they went, but because they were so impressed with the mutton story they came for the full day cooking different things.

“I’m used to mutton but of course if you have never tried it before it is something quite special. It’s really good mood food and Jamie and Jimmy were busy cooking fried loins, pasta dishes with minced mutton, kofta balls and mutton lollipops. It really is worth trying and I can only describe it as quick young people food – and these are really the people we want to target. What is so lovely with Jamie and Jimmy is that they champion the people who produce the food and also the people who consume the food. They’re very down to earth and it was an absolute pleasure and heartwarming experience having them here,” said Robert Vaughan.

Back in the early 1980s, when Robert and Richard were children, farming hit a low point; returns were poor and interest rates high. To help survive and pay the bills farmers were encouraged to diversify. This led Dilwyn to be inspired by his love of gardening, learnt from his mother, to begin to create what is today Penlan Uchaf gardens.

The third farm Penrhiw, which adjoins Llannerch and encompasses the other half of Carn Edward mountain, came up for sale in Robert and Richards’ final year of college and was purchased that year.

So the boys, both equipped with over a 500 year Vaughan family history in the Gwaun Valley, the educational knowledge and inspiration and drive gained from their parents and grandparents and a love for their ‘Cenefyn’ (homeland where born) the story of Carn Edward farms was born.

Today the farm runs as a typical livestock hill farm, with a closed flock comprising of 750 pedigree Lleyn breeding ewes and a native herd of 200 pedigree Longhorn cattle, with all calving and lambing taking place in the spring and all animals pasture grazed. In the harsh depths of winter they are housed and fed on grass silage round bales made in early summer.

In 2001 the farm established their Longhorn cattle herd, a low input pasture based native breed, ideally suited to the extreme weather conditions facing a north Pembrokeshire farm.

Farmers markets and food festivals, along with the gardens and tea rooms offered the opportunity to capitalise on the Carn Edward meat sales growth we all know of today.

“I’ve had to learn how to get the best of the mutton carcasses – you don’t want a big layer of fat on it today because people won’t buy them. Traditionally they were processed fat, making them suitable for lengthy hanging bearing in mind we didn’t have the fridges we have today. So we process our mutton with their working coat on, which means they are leaner and higher in protein and we add value, producing what our customers want,” said Robert Vaughan.

Describing how mutton differs from lamb and why it is worth a try, Robert added: “The texture is different and there so much flavour- it’s almost like the dark meat on a chicken but there is more of it. The sheep had more time to graze and the meat becomes firmer, leaner. You can almost describe it like a good Christmas cake – it needs time and you can’t rush it.

“As an industry we’ve got so obsessed with the spring lamb story we have taken our eye off the ball. We need to keep the bigger picture in mind, as lamb consumption is falling and that’s a concern for us all. So the mutton story is a way of generating a new interest and it is a great way of championing our sheep farming industry.

“The opportunity to share my farming life with ‘Friday Night Feast’ and such great well known characters, was both humbling and a heart-warming experience. As farmers in this climate we need to engage more with our customer and go beyond the farm gate.

“If you’re interested in trying some of the mutton featured in the TV show, you can buy it from our website http://www.carnedward.co.uk/ and you can find me at Farmers Markets on a Monday at Newport (Pembrokeshire) from 9am – 1pm, Tuesday’s at St Dogmaels from 9am – 1pm, Saturday (1st & 3rd of the month) at Aberystwyth Farmers Market and on the last Saturday of the month at Uplands Market, Swansea,” added Robert

Farming

Cattle prices exceed averages – and expectations

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BEEF cattle prices in England and Wales have hit the milestone of £4 per kilo, making this average the highest on record in a number of years.

The average deadweight price for steers for the week ending 24 April was 401.4p per kg which is 83p higher than this time last year and 67p above the five-year average.

Market prices at present are being influenced by a number of unique factors, including strong UK domestic retail demand, a lack of supply due to stockpiling in late-2020 ahead of the Brexit deadline, and changes in trade patterns caused by both Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

Whilst the impact of these factors on demand for beef in 2021 is unpredictable, newly released data from the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) suggests that no radical shift is likely in the supply of animals over the coming months.

During 2020, total calf registrations in GB were up marginally (0.5%) on 2019. In Wales, the figures show an increase of 1.4% in beef calf registrations, whilst dairy calf numbers increased by 3.2% on the year. For 2021 so far, beef calf registrations are currently trending 1.1% below last year.

Glesni Phillips is a Data Analyst at Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC). She said: “As we approach the peak calving period for spring calving herds in Wales, it is expected that BCMS monthly registration figures will increase over the coming months.

“However, the suckler cow herd in the UK has been retracting in recent years and currently, it shows no signs of re-building quickly. Prime heifer slaughterings during 2020 and the first quarter of this year, for instance, are higher than recent historic levels.

“These figures would suggest that supply onto the domestic UK market will likely remain tight for some time. Domestic retail figures for beef are strong, and with barbeque season coming up we should continue to see good demand  for good quality, locally produced beef.”

A more detailed analysis of the BCMS calf registrations data is available in HCC’s latest Market Bulletin on the HCC website.

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Farming

NVZ rules driving family farms out of business

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GLAMORGAN beef and sheep farmers Richard Walker and his partner Rachel Edwards run Flaxland Farm – a 120-acre beef and sheep holding just outside of Barry, Glamorgan. The couple say they will have to give up keeping cattle if current Water Resources (Control of Agricultural Pollution) (Wales) Regulations are not adjusted to incorporate recommendations made by industry stakeholder groups.

Richard and Rachel keep 35 breeding cows and 130 breeding ewes and are at the end of their tether.

“We’ve had a session with Farming Connect to see what we need to be doing, and it didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, apart from that we have enough ground to cope with how much slurry we produce. So we wouldn’t have to export. But we would have to cover one of the existing yards, which is an awkward shape, plus cover where we scrape slurry to, and also put in a slurry store. Which we don’t have at the moment,” said Rachel Edwards. 

“Judging on what the shed we had to put up recently has cost us, I don’t think we’ll have any change out of £50 thousand if we try to meet the requirements of the new regulations.  35 cows don’t bring in that sort of money. Where do you get that money from? And you still need to pay it back at the end if it’s borrowed. We’re looking at the kids probably still paying off what we’d spend. It would be far more stressful having to pay all that money back than getting rid of the cows. 

“These regulations are going to have a huge impact on our farm business. If nothing is done to amend or annul what we are facing now, I’ll have no choice but to get rid of the cattle. Trying to comply with these regulations is just going to be too expensive for us,” said Richard Walker.

Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs Lesley Griffiths announced the plans in a written statement in November last year, after which it became apparent that the majority of the plans had simply ‘been cut-and-pasted’ from the Nitrate Vulnerable Zone (NVZ) rules currently affecting just 2.4% of Wales.

While the Welsh Government announced in January that £11.5 funding would be made available to help farmers comply with the new rules – an allocation it had already announced previously in September 2020 – this represents just 3% of the £360 million the Welsh Government’s own impact assessment estimates the costs could be for Welsh farmers.

“There’s clearly nowhere near enough money to go around, and the total estimated bill is more than Wales’ annual farming budget.

“The margins are tight on lowland sucklers as it is. We’re looking at spending tens of thousands of pounds to comply. Is it really worth it?” adds Richard.

At Flaxland farm the muck gets spread on around 30 acres of fields in September when the fields are clear and it is left for a couple of months to rot down and go into the ground before being used as grazing for the new season lambs. 

“It saves us using artificial fertiliser. It’s organic fertilizer versus the artificial stuff which is £300 a tonne. We spread the slurry over winter, it helps the grass grow and we can turn the lambs and sheep out early. The spring lambs have fresh good grass and it hasn’t cost us a fortune in bagged fertiliser. 

“I look at what it does to my ground – new season lambs have lush green grass, a couple of inches tall and they rocket on it. We can produce 12 week old lambs ready for slaughter on grass and milk with no concentrate. Without it, the grass wouldn’t be as beneficial to the new season lambs as it is now. There would be a shortage of grass around February and March. The way we do things here works in rhythm with all the livestock and the environment. We also deal with the carbon footprint of our produce by selling our lambs locally to I.G. Nicholas butchers in Cowbridge, which means they have very few miles to travel from farm to plate,” said Richard.  

Being the third generation to farm the land, Richard says the farming system hasn’t changed much over the years and pollution here has never been an issue.

“I have had the cows all my life, my grandfather used to milk and they gave up milking in the 60s, and then we have had suckler cows ever since. The way we keep them hasn’t changed, back then it was open yards and they were fed on a concrete pad and whatever was left was scraped up and went out. It has never been an issue and we’ve never had a pollution incident here. The river near us has been tested many times and never comes back with any problems.

“I, like so many other farmers, take our responsibility to look after the environment, including our waters, very seriously. We have always been clear that one pollution incident is one too many and those who are guilty of polluting our rivers and watercourse should be held to account. Not many will argue with that. But to introduce these regulations across the whole of Wales, which goes against the recommendations the Welsh Government has received from their own task and finish group, beggars belief and will see many small and medium sized family farms go out of the cattle business,” he said.

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Farming

Small steps to improving pig fertility

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SIMPLE changes to pig management can result in significant improvements in fertility on units struggling with reproduction.

Factors influencing pig fertility are many and varied and can be due to infectious or non-infectious causes, says pig vet Dr Alex Thomsett, of The George Veterinary Group.

Non-infectious causes are often those that producers have more influences over and, in many cases, usually mean very simple changes, Dr Thomsett told farmers participating in a recent FarmingConnect webinar.

“A few small tweaks to management or the approach to reproduction on-farm can easily change a fairly difficult situation into a much better picture without going through a whole heap of blood sampling,’’ she said.

Among these is temperature stress; although this is more commonly associated with heat, cold can be a factor too.

Sows can find it difficult to adapt to changes in temperature and it can lead to more returns of service, poor cycling and higher numbers of abortions.

In outdoor herds, ensure pigs have mud wallows to dissipate heat and, to protect from direct sunlight, create shaded areas.

“This can be done very simply, with a few poles and a length of gale break or similar material,’’ Dr Thomsett advised.

Changes in day length can result in seasonal infertility in the autumn.

As this affects gilts, in particular, Dr Thomsett recommends selecting gilts that are early to go through puberty rather than those that are delayed.

Pigs need a minimum of 16 hours of daylight so ensure light exposure in housing is good – even cleaning whitewashed walls or lightbulbs can make a difference by better reflecting light at sow level on the back of the eye.

Light is more difficult to control in outdoor herds because this system is beholden to the time of the year and, for this reason, Dr Thomsett stressed that it was vital to get all the other issues around fertility working well, including nutrition.

Gilts need the right nutrition balance to prepare them to come into first service and to support them through the first service.

“Gilts and young females are still growing through their first pregnancy and it can often be forgotten that when a pig is lactating, her body is preparing for the next cycle’’, said Dr Thomsett.

In herds with longer lactation periods, Dr Thomsett suggests providing piglets with supplementary feeding to support the sow.

Mycotoxicosis is another consideration and can significantly interfere with herd fertility but Dr Thomsett said this is an unlikely cause if the farm has good quality sources of grain and straw.

Adding binders to feed is the best form of defence because these absorb harmful mycotoxins.

Vaccinations are an important tool for preventing infectious causes of infertility.

Ensure that the vaccination record of any bought-in stock is up to date and quarantine these animals, to ensure they are fit and healthy before entering the herd.

Carrying out a herd health check to establish health status and therefore which vaccinations are needed is greatly beneficial, said Dr Thomsett.

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