At Ty Isaf, a hill farm in Gwynedd where Ryan Williams share farms with Bini and Hugh Jones, the emphasis is on producing organic meat from traditional leys with a hefted flock that is adept at conservation grazing.

It is a flock with all the hill characteristics of hardiness, foraging ability, milkiness and lambing ease.

The missing piece of the jigsaw had been lamb carcass weights and Ryan saw the potential to improve these and the flock’s profit margin by using the right tups.

“We wanted an extra kilogrammes without changing the breed and the most economic way of getting that extra weight was going for performance recorded rams,’’ he says.

Since 2019, the business has been sourcing tups from hill ram breeder Bedwyr Jones, a member of ProHill, a producer group advancing flock output by using the latest genetics technology and performance recording to record their commercially-managed hill flocks.

Ryan selects rams with good figures for 21-week weights and back fat.

“Bedwyr has been constantly improving his rams by using data and we are seeing the benefits of that filtering into our flock.

“We are getting an extra 1-2kg on the carcass but we are seeing other improvements too.’’

Those were highlighted in an on-farm experiment he ran two years ago, siring 100 ewes with two recorded rams and 100 with non-recorded tups.

“We marked the ewes according to the ram they were mated with – one ram to 50 ewes – and what we found was that the lambs from the recorded rams were up on their feet much quicker than the others and they looked really bonny, healthy,’’ says Ryan.

Replacement ewes produced from the first performance-recorded ram are now two-years-old.

“They got in lamb in their first cycle, their feet are better, they are coming through the system much fitter,’’ Ryan reports. “It is early days, big gains don’t happen overnight, but we are seeing those improvements already.

“Bedwyr’s rams produce big lambs, with high 21 week weights and back fat, so we will look at other ProHill flocks too, to introduce a mix of different traits.’’

Ty Isaf rises from 600m to 1,600m at Llan Ffestiniog, a farm where Bini developed the sheep and beef systems while Hugh worked off-farm as a GP.

In 2015 they joined forced with Ryan, who grew up in the village. He has no family background in agriculture but his ambition had always been to farm – his best friend was a farmer’s son and Ryan spent much of his childhood around livestock.

Together, the Jones’ and Ryan have developed a system that mixes the traditional with the modern.

“We do a lot of conservation grazing, on old leys and permanent pasture with lots of herbs, but with a modern twist which is genetics,’’ Bini explains.

The farm is fragmented, with 250 acres across multiple blocks, all within a 10-mile radius of Ty Isaf. The land is on shallow, acidic soils with deep roots leys.

North Wales-type Welsh Mountain ewes graze mountain land in the summer, coming straight off there for tupping – the target is for them to be at body condition score 3 at that point.

They run with the rams for two cycles from 4 November; in the last two years 85% have got in lamb in the first cycle.

Ryan puts that down to the rams being fitter and sound on their feet.

“The rams are in their working clothes when we buy them, they haven’t been heavily fed and pumped up on protein so they don’t have sore feet and are vigorous.’’

The flock scans at an average of 130%. “It is much better to have one good lamb than two small ones,’’ Ryan reasons.

Single-bearing ewes are supplemented with mineral blocks and hay, and twins receive organic concentrates four weeks before lambing.

The lambing period in April has been reduced to three weeks. Lambing outside allows the best maternal genetics to shine. Very few ewes need assistance and lamb mortality is less than 6%.

“Our maternal traits are fantastic, the ewes will literally fight for their lambs, so we can afford to buy rams with less of maternal ability without losing those traits,’’ says Ryan.

Ewes and lambs are turned back onto the mountain and the lambs are later finished on grass on different pockets of land on a rotational grazing system.

“They don’t get any special treatment, they eat all the heather and wild flowers, but come back in the summer to finish off grass,’’ says Bini.

The ram lambs are finished in October and hoggets in July the following year.

All the meat is sold in boxes direct from the farm under the ‘Bini’s Organics’ brand, with a loyal customer base from Liverpool to London and everywhere in between.

Since performance recorded rams were used more ram lambs are achieving 15-16kg finishing weights.

“If we can get a few more ram lambs off in boxes it adds value to the system,’’ says Ryan.

The twins and females are grown on as hoggets, with an average carcass weight of 20-22kg.

“The meat really achieves its taste potential at that point,’’ says Bini. “We focus on taste, it is one of our unique selling points.’’

The business pays 350-550 guineas for a performance recorded ram.

“The beauty of ProHill is that there is something to suit everyone,’’ says Ryan.

“The ram we bought in 2021 was top of his index, he had amazing eight week weights, a nice fat to lean ratio, a nice compact size and very good maternal traits.

“We can maximise those add-ons in the box scheme and produce a good ewe lamb that won’t grow beyond 50kg, an animal that will do on the mountain and will give us five or six years’ service.’’

ProHill rams have helped the business to produce an economic ewe that performs in the existing system, he adds.

“We have been able to gain extra kilogrammes in carcass weights without having to change anything in our system, and to produce an animal that we can sell at the end of her productive life on the hill to a lowland system as a draft ewe.

“The Welsh ewe is important in the pyramid of Welsh farming, if we get the genetics right up here it is good for everyone.’’

The business plans to buy from other ProHill flocks going forward.

“The ProHill scheme and the hill index are not just a fairytale in a book, they actually work,’’ says Ryan.

Going forward, a balance will need to be struck between farming and nature, he reckons, but farms must be profitable too.

“The Welsh ewe has got to move with the times and with ProHill we are definitely moving in the right direction.’’