‘Sheep Show’ family’s farm struggles with lack of rainfall

Published:
1:31 PM August 5, 2022



A Norfolk farmer has highlighted the difficulties of feeding livestock in parched grazing pastures which have received just four inches of rain since March.

John Savory and his family run a mixed enterprise of Aberdeen Angus cattle, sheep and red deer based at Gateley, near Fakenham.

The partnership – including his wife Gill, their son Richard and his wife Helen – also runs the popular Sheep Show which entertains crowds at county fairs and agricultural shows across the country during the summer.


Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill

But the prolonged dry conditions have become an increasing concern for their animals, with only 109.5mm of rainfall recorded since March 1.

Mr Savory said it is his driest year since returning to Norfolk from New Zealand in 1988.

It has left very little grass growing on the 350 acres of grazing land, meaning he has needed to buy in costly extra feed, and tap into supplies normally reserved for the winter.

However, 70 acres of grassland have benefited from waste water recycled from vegetable and meat processing plants.

Mr. Savory said that is one of the strategies which livestock farmers will need to consider in a warming climate.

“That water is equivalent to five inches of rainfall, which is more than we have actually had since March,” he said.

“If we had not been able to put on these thousands of gallons of waste water, we would not have been able to make our silage, or hay, or anything.

“Without that, we would be in a real muddle. We would have to sell livestock.


Sheep grazing on parched grassland at Gateley, near Fakenham

Sheep grazing on parched grassland at Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill

“Normally we never feed anything out there, we grow all the grass we want. But this year it is costing us a lot more money to feed the animals, and we have made half the hay that we made last year.”

In the future, Mr Savory said farmers will either have to source alternative water supplies, carry less livestock, or “change our farming pattern”.

“We calve in the spring and as soon as the calves are born they go out with the cows and there is grass coming forward,” he said. “We might now have to calve in the autumn and feed everything in a shed, at vast cost.


Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill

“We might have to grow special crops that produce more hay like lucerne. You can grow that in a dry area, but it costs money.

“We have tonnes of water in the winter time but it is all gone. My suggestion is that all the water that runs off the street shouldn’t go into the sewage works, it should be pumped into reservoirs, which could be done.”


Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill

Mr Savory emigrated to Canada in 1954 after completing his National Service, and later worked in Australia before moving to New Zealand in 1955 to further his livestock farming career, as demand boomed for the country’s wool.

He raised his family of four sons in New Zealand after meeting his wife Gill, and they returned to Norfolk in 1988.


Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill


Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill


Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill


Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Norfolk farmer John Savory with Aberdeen Angus cattle at his family’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill


Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill


Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory's farm in Gateley, near Fakenham

Red deer reared for Waitrose venison at John Savory’s farm in Gateley, near Fakenham
– Credit: Chris Hill

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button
AGADIR-GROUP