Ben and Julia Jones, Ffynnonau Farm Hillside Beef and Lamb

About the farm

T/A Hillside Beef and Lamb, Ffynnonau Farm, is a 135 acre farm near Abergavenny. The farm has 65 acres suitable for sheep grazing, other parts of the farm are parklands or hay meadows which do not have suitable boundaries to keep sheep from the main road. 

The farm has a mixture of sandy and silty loam soils, with a huge variation from the floodplain meadows to the top of the Clytha Hill which is very stony soil.

Ben and Julia have been at Ffynnonau Farm since 2019. They have been members of Pasture for Life for 3 years and PfL certified for beef and sheep for 2 years.

They have been keeping sheep for 15 years. Initially starting with Black Welsh Mountain ewes, which were crossed with Lleyn and then Texel over the years. Flock size has reduced from 100 to 40 ewes over the past 5 years, this was due to a combination of factors including reducing the intensity of production, a dog attack on their previous farm and TB in the sheep flock in the past 12 months. More recently they have introduced Easycares to the flock, these currently make up about 50% of the flock and Ben has been so impressed with them that he intends to increase the proportion of Easycares in future. At the moment they are happy with the size of the flock so have no immediate plans to increase numbers.

Pasture management

Ffynnonau Farm sheep pasture is a mixture of 50% permanent pasture and 50% reseeds (30acres). Historically the reseeds have been PRG/WC/RC mixes but they are considering herbal leys in future for increased diversity, improving pasture availability at each end of the season and reducing parasite burdens.

The sheep are normally on daily moves, rotating through paddocks using 3 strands of electric fencing. Ben uses a plate meter to inform decision making about grazing moves. Sheep usually go in at a sward height of 9-10cm which is usually about 2750-3000kg DM/ha. They find that if the sheep go into much longer swards they get foot issues. Ideally, they move on to a new area after 24hrs, so the cattle can graze behind them. But when this is not possible, the sheep come out at around 6cm otherwise they notice recovery is much slower and lamb growth slows too. Usually, cattle follow the sheep through the paddocks and govern when the sheep are moved on but this has not been possible due to TB this year (the cattle numbers are reduced and being kept in separate groups). Rest periods range from 16/17 days during fast grass growth periods to 45-60 days depending on the growing season and could be longer in winter. 

Although conserved forage is made on farm either as hay or wrapped silage/haylage, the sheep only get conserved forage in the event of extreme circumstances such as severe drought or snow.

During the winter sheep are grazed in smaller paddocks and moved on frequently, Ben says the odd paddock looks a bit rough/trampled after grazing in wet conditions, but it gets a long rest, as each paddock may only be grazed once during the winter, and always seems to recover well. 

Managing the grazing in this rotational system throughout the year means they can keep sheep out on grazing all year, without supplementary feed or forage, and there is always fresh grass ahead of them. 


The flock are usually lambed from 1st April, however they are considering  bringing this forward a week next year as they have been getting some issues with big singles and think it may be due to good grass availability through April. The ewes are all lambed outdoors and checked 3 or 4 times a day during daylight hours. If lambs are born towards the end of the afternoon/early evening they may bring them in overnight to reduce the risk of predation and they are put back out the next morning.

The flock is not scanned as they feel it’s a small to number to ask a scanner to come out to and also the results would not affect their management as all ewes are kept together in one mob throughout. They usually expect under 5% lamb losses but last year had a late issue with toxoplasmosis, losing around 30%, so intend to vaccinate against this going forward.

Ewe nutrition

Throughout the year, ewes get a fresh bite of grass daily, unless other work such as meat deliveries takes priority and then they are given a larger area for a couple of days. This routine changes a week or two before lambing when they are held in an area with plenty of grass availability, until they have lambed. As ewes lamb, they are moved to a new field and mobbed up over a few days, then they are put on a rotational system quite soon after. Ben feels this helps the young lambs learn to respect the electric fence and get accustomed to the rotational system quickly, whilst they are still keen to stay close to their mothers. 

Ben and Julia have been weighing their ewes and lambs regularly for about 10 years and feel this is an efficient way of monitoring ewe condition. The ewes are weighed monthly and being able to compare from one year to the next is a useful way to compare years. They rarely get ewes dropping much in condition, even when carrying/rearing multiples, unless there is an underlying health issue. 

Before coming to Ffynnonau, they used to feed ewes leading up to lambing and creep feed lambs but since stopping this they haven’t observed any drop in condition of ewes or productivity of lambs. Ben also feels that now he has changed to a 100% pasture fed system he can see that feeding did not increase kg output of meat from the flock, it may have meant some lambs went a bit quicker, but the costs associated with that were not sustainable.

The ewes are provided with mineral blocks during the winter months and Ben finds that the ewes use them in the weeks leading up to lambing but are not usually interested once lambed. He occasionally blood tests to check nutritional status if a problem is suspected.

Youngstock nutrition

The majority of ram lambs are finished before weaning, with some of the earliest singles ready to go from mid-June, any not finished by weaning are grazed separately in a small group. Ewe lambs to be kept for replacements are kept separately to wean for a few weeks and then rejoin the main flock, whilst the female fat lambs are weaned and remain in a separate group to fatten. This group is grazed on the reseed pastures whilst the main flock graze the permanent pasture and once all the fat lambs have gone, usually by end January, the main flock graze all the pastures. 

The aim is to sell lambs between 42 and 45kg. All lambs are weighed fortnightly from 4 weeks old to monitor growth rates, which usually average 250-300g/day. Weighing lambs also helps plan for customer orders over the coming weeks.  

Lambs are always given a cobalt bolus at 25kg, as there is a known deficiency. Lambs are occasionally blood tested to test nutritional status. 

Parasite management

All lambs receive a white drench for nematodirus at 6 weeks old. After that, weighing and growth rates determine if anything gets another dose - which the odd one may get in early Autumn. FEC is also used sometimes to check the parasite burden and inform anthelmintic use. The ewes very rarely need worming. Ben believes that cross grazing with cattle has a beneficial impact on parasite burden of sheep.

External parasites are much easier to control now the flock is largely made up of Easycares as they don’t seem to get flystrike, this has meant a significant reduction in chemical use and labour requirements for both flystrike treatment, prevention and shearing! Ben and Julia also encourage lots of birds and bats on the farm through feeders etc and believe this helps reduce the pest insect burden!

Flock monitoring and breeding selection

Except for buying in rams and some Easycare ewes. The flock is run as a closed flock as much as possible. Ewe lamb replacement selection is based on good growth rates, twin born lambs predominantly, a good shape and shedding in the crossbreds. They are also looking at tail length as this is a highly heritable trait and Ben wants shorter tailed ewes as he no longer tails lambs. 

Culling choices are due to mastitis, poor feet or lameness issues, age/teeth especially after 5yrs, if ewes are not performing, but will keep older ewes that are working well, he currently has one ewe in the flock that is around 8 years old and she produces some of the best lambs!

Data collection is an important part of flock and grazing management at Ffynnonau: 

They have been weighing for 10 years which gives them a good idea of when things are going well or not – ideally want ewes maintaining condition and lambs growing, regular weighing means they can act on any issues quickly.

Lambs are weighed at birth, 4wks, 6wks (to determine dose rates for white drench), then fortnightly to monitor growth and estimate when lambs will be ready to sell. Growth rates average 250 – 300g/day – drop backs may indicate worm burden and inform worming but also do some FEC to monitor parasites too. They recently had some lambs that were still growing well that had very high worm burdens which was unexpected. 

Other data collection includes:

Pasture measurements with rising plate meter to help inform grazing decisions.

Soil testing which is carried out through schemes such as Farming Connect and a farm focus group they are involved with that is funded by the Dulverton Trust.

Selling produce

All fat lambs are sold direct to local customers, Ben and Julia offer monthly deliveries across southeast Wales, when lambs are available.

Mutton – they were selling culls in market until TB stopped this, so they tried selling some to customers last year; demand was very high and feedback was positive so they intend to continue to do this.

Being PfL certified is a big selling point for them as there are lots of ‘grass fed’ lamb boxes available in the area but PfL gives assurance that their meat is different and 100% pasture fed.


In a normal year the sheep enterprise is profitable, Ben calculated his profit to be £132/ewe in the 2022 lambing year (not accounting for labour), however the 2023 lambing crop has been more challenging and will have reduced output due to high lamb losses through toxoplasmosis and TB in the sheep flock. 

Since moving from a more conventional system to 100% certified pasture-based system, profitability has definitely increased as they were incurring high feed costs with no increased output. The main difference was the time of year they were selling the lambs, most were gone by July (lambing in Feb/March). These costs were necessary when his grass management/availability was not keeping the ewes – Ben says this is the key! A few years on he doesn’t think there is any advantage to feeding sheep, they should only need grass. 

Biodiversity on the farm

Gwent Wildlife Trust have recently carried out a biodiversity survey on the farm and found 107 different plant species on some of the sheep fields which demonstrates that under the correct grazing management sheep can be very beneficial for biodiversity.

Benefits and challenges of the sheep system

Ben enjoys working with sheep because he feels you get a quicker return than with cattle, you can see them grow quickly and the financial return comes sooner. When trying to influence the genetics of the flock you can see results coming through much sooner than with cattle. He also enjoys working the dogs with the sheep. 

Sheep are beneficial to Ffynnonau in many ways including being handy to graze areas of the farm where cattle can’t go, such as the orchard. Because they graze differently to cattle he uses sheep to target different outcomes such as reducing ragwort.

One of the main challenges with sheep on the farm is public access, there are many public footpaths across the farm which can increase issues with dogs worrying sheep etc so this determines where they can and can’t graze at certain times of the year, although Ben acknowledges this is not a pasture-based issue as it is a challenge that many sheep farmers face.

Water supply has been a challenge on the farm, especially on the higher ground, he currently carries water up from the yard by tractor, but he is planning to put in a solar pump soon.

Some people perceive rotational grazing and regular moves to be very labour intensive, but Ben doesn’t agree – he sets up a week’s worth of paddocks on one day and then it’s just a 10-minute job to move them from one paddock to the next each day whilst out checking stock anyway.

Suggestions for anyone thinking about a pasture-based sheep system

Ben says anyone considering moving to a 100% pasture-based sheep system should “just go for it. Trials things and see how you get on…. You could start by trying a gradual decline of feed, for example, stop feeding creep to lambs.” He says, “it’s important to monitor properly to see what difference it makes – analyse the cost of feed and other inputs to finish a bit earlier and really consider which is the best option for you.” He adds, “If you spend some of what you normally spend on feed on electric fence kit and get your rotational grazing right, the kit will last for years and pay for itself many times over, plus you won’t have any plastic waste!!”

 If you live in Wales, he recommends joining a Farming Connect grassland management course or finding other ways to learn about pasture management as that is the key to 100% pasture-based systems, you always need to have good quality grass ahead of the sheep – “if you can’t manage the grazing, you can’t do 100% pasture fed and the stock will suffer.”