Ben Anthony and Diana Fairclough are not afraid to make changes to their sheep enterprise and their decisions have benefited business and their own professional development.

Ben Anthony and Diana Fairclough are not just following fads and fashions, but recording everything they can to make sure they are driving forward their sheep farming business.

In 2010, the couple entered a joint venture agreement with Diana’s parents and decided to pursue the Finished lamb market from their farm in Whitland, Carmarthenshire.

While the unit comprises 59 hectares (145 acres) and includes 14ha (35 acres) of woodland, they also rent an additional 36ha (90 acres) adjoining the family farm and a further 8ha (20 acres) about five miles away to achieve economies of scale.

Diana says: “We are open to all new ideas and suggestions, so we actually sat down and went through our records to see where we could make improvements and acted on it.”

Ben says: “We have changed Frowen Farm’s traditional farming practices. Historically, we sold finished lambs on the live market and bred our own replacement ewe lambs.

“But we made the decision to concentrate our efforts on the finished lamb market, as we felt trying to do both was conflicting and we almost needed two separate flocks.”

Changing the steer of their business, sheep numbers have increased from 300 ewes to more than 570, and a further 160 ewe lambs, while suckler cows have reduced from 40 cows plus youngstock to 17 cows plus 25 stores.

They have refined their focus on genetics and have worked to improve the flock and ultimately the end product, and are now achieving the correct market specifications.

All replacement ewe lambs are bought-in from one source to minimise disease risk. The flock historically comprised Texel cross and Suffolk cross ewes, but the couple decided they wanted a lighter, more prolific ewe capable of increasing lamb output.

Ben says: “Since 2013, Aberfield cross improved Welsh ewe lambs have been purchased from one unit and, at an average of 65kg, has helped us increase our stocking rate by 29 per cent.

“We have also swapped Texel and Suffolk rams for performance recorded Abermax and Primera in an attempt to improve overall lamb performance.”


All ewes are lambed indoors in two batches due to shed space. Previously they lambed from late January until early May, but in 2014 the lambing period was changed to commence early March and coincide with the main flush of grass at turnout, reducing concentrate.

Ben says: “In 2012, it took 42 days to produce 500 lambs, but this year 500 were born in 10 days.

“By day 19, there were 700 lambs, and the uniformity in size made it easier to draw lambs.

“All lambs are recorded at birth and we look closely at the flock to monitor performance and base our decisions on facts and figures we have.”

A number of other improvements have been introduced within the fencing and grassland performance and the whole farm is now ploughed in a rotation.

As a result, root crops are grown to feed ewes over winter and the introduction of swede has enhanced organic matter within the soil and allowed grass fields to be rested ready for ewes and lambs to be turned out on.

As the farm operates a forage-based system, about 12ha (30 acres) a year being ploughed and reseeded with leys containing high sugar grasses and red clover leys, with brassicas used as a break crop.

Feeding regimes have been carefully considered and pre-lambing nutrition has been overhauled.

Diana says: “We match ewe concentrate requirements to silage nutritional quality.

“Traditionally, in the eight weeks pre-lambing, we fed grass silage and a standard 18 per cent concentrate.

“With advice from our feed consultant, this diet has now changed to a 21 per cent protein and high soya concentrate and a combination of red clover and grass silage.

“We now precisely feed this higher spec protein concentrate, which has contributed to us feeding an average of 50 per cent less concentrate, which works out as an average of 19.4kg per ewe.”

All changes combined have significantly changed business output, performance and profitability.

By the end of September 2015, the couple had reared 40,500kg liveweight of lamb, compared with 31,250kg 12 months earlier, with similar ewe numbers.

Ben says: “We have considerably improved flock performance. The reduced losses and increased performance are mainly due to improved ewe nutrition and dealing with an enzootic abortion problem through introducing a vaccination programme.

“We aim to produce high quality meat through careful selection of performance recorded Innovis rams to meet market specifications.

“The use of EID aided our decisions by comparing results of different rams and, as all lambs are now sold deadweight, slaughter reports provide valuable information to aid monitoring the flock.

“We now wean between 12 and 13 weeks and, through the EID, we have seen lambs perform better post-weaning.

“We manage and utilise our grasses better and lambs have all the best grasses, while ewes follow round behind them.”

Self Development

In 2013, the couple joined forces with Farming Connect to become a demonstration farm and have not just continued to improve the farm, but have been developing their business skills and sharing best practice with other farmers.

Diana says: “It has given us a confidence boost working with consultants who have praised our hard work to date and our record keeping on daily activities.

“It has given us the opportunity to share our ideas, knowledge, enthusiasm and experience with others and to work and learn from consultants and other farmers to continue our development.”

Although their time has come to an end, they remain heavily connected with Farming Connect and still host on-farm meetings.

As a Farming Connect mentor, Ben has been involved in a series of talks called ‘Measure to Manage’ around Wales to help motivate farmers to record their performance.

He says: “We are currently working closely with Innovis and 2 Sisters Red Meat, Merthyr Tydfil, on a ram development trial.

“The aim of this trial is to bring farmers and processors closer to develop a ram which suits the needs of  everyone, to meet market requirements throughout the supply chain from farmer, processor and retailer/customer to the end consumer.

“We hope as a result of the trial there will be a ram developed to produce lambs the market wants, and farmers who use these genetics will see benefits through a premium price and preference offered by processors.”

The couple also attend Agrisgop, a fully funded management development programme provided by Farming Connect, with like-minded individuals who want to progress their businesses forward through new ideas and best practices.

Diana says: “We all share our experience and knowledge of different subjects and learn from each other. We hope we are seen as positive role models for the wider farming industry and others can see our enthusiasm for farming and appreciate our efforts for the future of the sheep industry.”

Post-Brexit, the couple remain upbeat and are looking for new avenues to sell their lamb.

Ben says: “I feel positive about the future with new marketing opportunitiesopening up for lamb exports. There is a whole journey ahead.

“The current value of sterling has led to a turnaround of retailers supporting British farmers – long may it continue.

The couple are hopeful the adjoining land they currently rent becomes available to purchase as they are keen to pursue a farm diversification in glamping to enable Diana to work on-farm full-time.

She says: “Our ultimate goal is for the unit to become profitable without any form of support payments.”

On winning the Sheep Innovator of the Year Award at last year’s British Farming Awards, Ben and Diana said they were ‘shell-shocked’ to win.

Ben says: “It was totally unbelievable to have won. It was a huge honour just to be nominated and it was a really brilliant night.”