A Flexible System with Early Lambing

Roger & Jill Ford, Devon Flock 1134
By John Adams

Ford_1.jpgThe West Country Club’s Flock Competition had a new winner in 2010. Judge Adam Cheesmur spent 4 days being escorted around the SW by Mike Young in August. They had an excellent time, by all accounts. The results and rationale were announced by Adam at the Club’s Annual Dinner.

Adam said ‘What a pleasure it had been to see Jill and Roger Ford’s Lleyn sheep. In my opinion, their 80+ ewes were a very even group of the right type and size. They were lively and strong, and were managed in a commercial-type system, whilst retaining their pedigree Lleyn characteristics. 2009-born ewe lambs had been put to the ram, a Berrichon tup, and most of the resultant lambs were ready for the market. It was striking that their mothers looked no different from shearlings that hadn’t reared lambs.

The shearling rams were very well grown and 2010-born ram lambs looked even more promising. EweFord_2.jpg lambs had been shorn and were well grown as a result, with fine bone and heads. They looked very even. Overall, I awarded Jill and Roger the Flock Competition Championship for an excellent display of the quality and the versatility of Lleyn sheep, demonstrating how they can give producers as many marketing options as possible within one flock.’

Jill and Roger are steeped in the traditions of stock rearing in Devon, one of the most important stock counties in the country. Roger worked with his father and brother, and then his uncle, on an arable/dairy farm, before working for a neighbour and also erecting agricultural buildings. Jill was brought up on a sheep/beef farm in North Devon. She went to Bicton College in 1959/60 and was prize student of the year. She was active in the YFC and won 2 scholarships to visit Denmark and North Italy. Lambing over 300 ewes gave her plenty of hands-on experience.

Fordhayes farm, near Crediton, was in the family. Jill and Roger were married in 1970 and have lived at Fordhayes ever since. The farm is around 100 acres, lying 300-350 ft above sea level and having a deep red soil overlying clay and volcanic rock. It is ideal sheep country and the sheep fit in well with the rearing of 40-50 store cattle a year and some thousands of free range poultry.

Ford_3.jpgJill and Roger started their sheep keeping with 20 Texels and expanded their flock with commercial crossbreds. They bought some Suffolks at Norman Watkins’ dispersal sale in 1991 and, at one time, they had 80 pedigree Suffolks. Looking for a crossing sire to put on their crossbred flock of 200, they changed from Texels (lambing problems) to Berrichon du Cher. The success of this change led to their keeping a pedigree Berrichon flock from 1997 to the present day. There is a good local market for the rams as terminal sires.

As they got older, the Fords began to find the Suffolks to be hard work. They had read about Lleyn and met several enthusiastic breeders at NSA Sheep SW. Their positive views led to the purchase of 20 ewes at the first Exeter Society sale in 2000 from Gwyn Anthony (Flock 91), supplemented by ewes from Jo Hynes, Cathy Evans and Hefin Llwyd. The aim was to buy medium sized ewes for keeping economically, with tight fleeces and small ears (a personal preference) . They were an instant success – easy lambing, low cost to keep, easy to handle – quite different from the Suffolks. 

Over the last few years the Fords have used rams from Flocks 284 (Sayers), 1401 (Turner), 419 (Martin) and 287 (Hughes) and bred up to 120 ewes. In the last year or two, they changed their system a little and now lamb some of their ewe lambs. This year 85 ewes and 60 ewe lambs went to the ram. Prolificacy normally varies between 160 and 180% scanned and around 160-170% weaned.

The ewe flock is bred pure but the ewe lambs are put to the Berrichon. Partly this is to avoid having inbreeding (having only a small number of rams) but the strategy also means that they have Berrichon X Lleyn ewe lambs to sell as well as butchers lambs.

The ewes/ewe lambs are fed on haylage and blocks 4-6 weeks before lambing, supplemented by someFord_4.jpg 18% protein ewe nuts. They are kept outdoors until a week before lambing. Indoors, they have the same diet but the amount of nuts is increased. After lambing, they are put out to grass with the same feed but the amount of nuts is decreased as the lambs take to creep.

Lambing is between the end of January and mid February so that lambs are ready to sell when the lamb price is near its peak. ‘It might sound early but it suits our locality.’ Most of the lambs go to Jaspers abattoir, grading well at 18-20 kg with 25% U, 71% R and 4% O grades, mostly fat class 3L.
“grading well at 18-20 kg with 25% U, 71% R and 4% O grades, mostly fat class 3L”

Breeding ewes are sold privately or through the Exeter Society Sale, while rams are sold through a variety of outlets – private sales, the NSA SW Ram Sale, the Exeter Society Sale and Exeter Market.

Jill explained that ‘we don’t select for twins or triplets when looking for flock replacements. Too high a lambing % would make things too complicated.’

The Fords are lucky in that both their children live locally; their son is in charge of the arable enterprise on a neighbouring 1000 acre farm.

 

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