2018 winners follow-up: Sam Jones, Sheep Innovator of the Year winner

Making changes to simplify systems, introduce technology and save labour have resulted in both improved profitability and animal health and welfare for Sam Jones.

Just over a decade ago, Brookhouse Farm, Worcestershire, was home to 2,000 North Country Mules, but third generation farmer Sam Jones decided to reduce this to 1,150, which has led to improvements in flock health and profitability, coupled with a reduction in vet bills.

Once over, they were having to give the flock more medicines to keep diseases and general problems at bay.

Sam says: “The cost of this was outnumbering the profit from the extra ewes, but I felt as though they were running twice as fast to just stand still with no great advantage.”

So from 2014 the flock was cut back by 100 ewes each year, until the optimum number of about 1,150 was reached, which Sam says suits the farm’s facilities, land and labour perfectly.

Lambing takes place indoors for three weeks from mid-March and a team of vet students is drafted in to help. Replacements are bought as lambs from Bentham market and put to the ram as lambs achieving a 120-125 lambing percentage.

However, as a biosecurity measure, they are kept apart from the main ewe flock for 18 months.


Ewe lambs are sold to private farms and male lambs are sent to Farmers Fresh in Kenilworth, with most achieving a liveweight of 45kg and 21kg deadweight.

The farm’s core business, the sheep flock, must also run alongside an arable enterprise, which includes 12 hectares (30 acres) of oats and 8ha (20 acres) of barley, both used for feeding ewes and weaned lambs. An additional 32ha (80 acres) of wheat is grown to sell as feed wheat.

With minimal labour on-farm, the use of technology has been key to the success of the sheep business.

An investment Sam describes as a ‘gamechanger’ on-farm was a grant-funded automatic weigh scale and shedding gate.

He says: “It used to be incredibly time-consuming, but now I can get 300 lambs in, start the process off and go away and do something else.

By the time I have come back, 90 per cent will have taken themselves through the weigher.

“It no longer needs someone with expertise to oversee the entire process. The farming fraternity can be scared of technology, but it has really helped us.

“Time management is so important these days, trying to achieve the best work-life balance, so any bits of technology to help free up time are essential to our operation.”

A three-in-one feeder has also saved the business time and labour.

Sam says: “It does not necessarily reduce feeding costs, but it helps you feed smarter. Rather than having to trough feed sheep every day, it will last four to five days, which obviously frees me up to do other things.”

Sam explains every new technology and measure implemented on-farm is designed to reduce costs.

“That is the name of the game – knowing where the line is, so we are getting as much production out of sheep as possible, without going over the top and having to spend a lot on vet bills.”

Another key focus is to drastically reduce antibiotic use on-farm. Historically, all lambs had been injected with 0.5ml of penicillin at birth, but this has been cut out altogether.

Sam says: “Between 2017 and 2018, we reduced the use of antibiotics by 86 per cent with no side effects.

“It just showed us we did it because we always had because we needed to.”

From 2018, Sam stopped blanket treatment of ewes for abortion just before lambing and vaccinated with enzovax instead.

He says: “This means when we do have to use them they will be much more effective. If we do not start to reduce them now, we will be in trouble down the line, so we are going to take the plunge while things are good with the price of sheep, because once Brexit comes who knows what will happen.

“We want to try and get the cost reduction down now so if times get hard, it will not be as bad.”


Electronic identification-produced data is used to track ewe performance and lamb daily liveweight gain.

Sam says: “Every ewe is looked at when her lambs are tagged. If the ewe has had a problem-free pregnancy and birth, then nothing apart from her scanning result and lambing weight will be entered. More data is only entered if there is a problem.

“Daily liveweight gain records are also critical when getting lambs to their maximum weight of 45kg as soon as possible. Ideally, lambs will be gaining 300-350g/day when on the finishing ration.”

Flock improvement

Sam is currently taking part in Challenge Sheep, an AHDB project which began in October 2017 to understand how the rearing phase of replacement ewes
impacts lifetime productivity.

Brookhouse Farm is one of 13 flocks taking part in the six-year-long monitoring process, which will track more than 4,000 replacements.

Despite making efficiencies and embracing change to fine-tune the farm’s operations, Sam is quick to point out that none of this would have been possible without the farm diversifying.

He says: “With the ‘Brexit’ word looking ever more confusing, we are trying to make the farm future-proof with other things on-farm taking an ever more important role.

“You have to do other things to enable you to farm. Farming will become a privilege in the future. We have made ours stand on its own two feet, but
in order to reinvest we have had to generate money from somewhere else.”

For the past 16 years Sam has run a mobile bar business for events in Worcestershire, Warwickshire and the West Midlands.

On-farm, there are six small storage units which are hired out by external businesses, two biomass units totalling 1.65MW and 50kW and roof-mounted solar panels.

Sam says: “The biomass has done really well. It heats storage units and the house. It also allows us to dry the corn and hay like we did in the olden days. It makes beautiful hay the way it used to be.

“Overall, it has safeguarded our entire process by massively reducing the cost of drying and heating via diesel and electricity.

“We can’t have all our eggs in one basket anymore; it’s just not possible to be a one-trick pony in this climate.”

As well as the day-to-day work, Sam also hosts about five farm tours a year, which include schools, European visitors and scholars.

He says: “I feel it is so important to open the farm up and invite people on and have frank general discussions about how our food is produced and how we manage the countryside.

“We try to help and embrace the next generation by making our industry appeal to the younger generation to show what a fantastic way of life it is to encourage them to jump on board, and with the use of technology, take it to the next level.”


It was Sam’s desire to use technology in a well-thought-out way which impressed the judges and saw him win Sheep Innovator of the Year Award at last year’s British Farming Awards.

He says: “We work so hard to try and be more efficient. We embrace technology and try and be as progressive as we can be. We feel very privileged to have
won this award.”