Like most sheep farmers, I need to ensure that my enterprise is profitable; for me one of the key drivers is to produce as many lambs as possible. Many of my neighbours have opted for Mules, but I donâ€™t like large sheep and was looking for a medium-sized ewe which didnâ€™t eat too much grass. We came from a system based on Texel cross ewes with low prolificacy (we have struggled to better 150% lambing), but which produced the type of lamb that fetched a good price. We were happy with the size of the ewes; all we needed was a more prolific replacement.
Iâ€™d been thinking about the Lleyn for several years, so a trip to the Royal Welsh Show in 2005 found me glued to the ringside. What I hadnâ€™t realised was that there was a great variation within the breed. Clearly, there was considerable choice out there, with the trend towards growing a much bigger animal, which I thought had perhaps strayed from the breed standard of earlier years.
I was looking for a lighter ewe, one that milks well and, when crossed with a suitable terminal sire, will produce twin 38 kg finished lambs off grass; and, if allowed, the lambs will grow on to perhaps 45 kg without getting over-fat, to supply the hoggett trade that is usually good in those lean early months of the New Year.
John Adams was particularly helpful, and pointed us in the direction of likely breeders based in the South West. The cheque book got a bit of a beating and 200 ewes came home. We didnâ€™t buy from just one source and now, as we look back at the 2008 lamb crop, we are beginning to see which ewes are performing well on our soils and conditions. The ewes come from flocks 150, 940, 961, 1141, 1156, 1256, and 1717. We hadnâ€™t planned to buy as many ewes at first, but some grass came available close to home, so an additional 80 ewes (those that originated from flocks 940 and 961) were bought. We have 3 Lleyn rams, all coming from Arfon Hughes (Flock 287); these have proven to be exceptionally hard and vigorous workers, producing what we believe is the ideal ewe for our system.
Our flock is split into 2 mobs â€“ the first is 100 Lleyn ewes put to the Lleyn rams to provide replacements and expand total ewe numbers. These graze on hill ground, a poorer soil that stays dry and enjoys a good breeze keeping flies at bay, although, being based just outside Weston-super-Mare, on the edge of the Somerset Levels, â€˜hillâ€™ is perhaps an exaggeration! The second mob of 200 predominantly Lleyn ewes, together with some of our remaining Texel crosses, are put to Charollais rams at present. These graze some very good dairy pasture, where the soil is a clay loam and grows a terrific amount of grass. We kept back 80 Lleyn ewe lambs from the 2008 lamb crop that will join the commercial flock in September.
If lamb sales continue at a fair price, the plan is to grow the commercial flock to around 500 Lleyn ewes over the next 3 to 4 years with all home bred stock, although, if the right sort of ewe comes up at the right price, Iâ€™m not averse to the odd purchase.
We aim to sell a large proportion of lambs either through small local farmersâ€™ markets or as half or whole lamb freezer packs. This has proved to be good both financially and because we actually get to see the finished product â€“ something that, I would guess, many farmers rarely see. Now, Iâ€™m not one for over-focussing on grades, but I can say that we are producing exactly what our customers want â€“ low fat content/ cover but, perhaps more importantly to year round sales, lambs that are not getting over-fat, even at the hoggett stage. Market prices have also validated our choice, with our lambs always selling well at our local market â€“ Sedgemoor Auction Centre.
This year, the ewes put to Lleyn rams scanned at 194% and the commercial flock at 180%, that figure being lower mainly because of the old Texel cross ewes.
The ewes are housed as close to lambing as possible. This year we brought them in 10 days prior to due date, having fed them from 6 weeks prior to lambing, initially on a feed block, then at 2 weeks prior moving over to a compound feed that we continue to feed in the house together with ad-lib hay. We managed to make some good hay last year despite the poor weather, the analysis showing 11% protein. The grass has begun to look a lot greener over the past few weeks, so weâ€™ll hopefully turn out our first lambs at around a week old, provided they are good and strong; certainly any singles will go out then.
The big thing for us over the next 12 months is EID. Iâ€™m a great fan of technology as an aid to improving what we do. Computers do repetitive and â€˜boringâ€™ tasks much better than I will ever do, so lambing is going to be just that little bit busier this year as we retrospectively EID tag most of the ewes, then EID tag all of the lambs. Weâ€™re eventually going for a comprehensive setup utilizing both hand held and panel (race) readers, together with an electronic scale and weigh head which will also facilitate automatic drafting at some point in the near future.
The goal is to be able to utilize all the information we gather to improve our flock and farming methods so that we should be able to see differences in forage palatability and utilization by the ewes and lambs â€“ Iâ€™ve often wondered if some fields donâ€™t grow the lambs as well as others and, with the electronic weigh scales giving accurate weights to plus or minus 10 grams, weâ€™ll be able to do the necessary comparisons that the dear old spring balance never could.
From a commercial standpoint, the Lleyn ewe provides an ideal dam to cross with a terminal sire. This produces the size and type of lamb that buyers prefer. The price we have achieved at market certainly supports this. Weâ€™d recommend the Lleyn.