A versatile sheep breed disrupts the hill sector

Rising costs and decreasing subsidies have prompted many mountain farms to review their production and systems.

Many units have switched to a Cheviot sire for this reason, either to raise breeding stock or as a terminal sire for reserve or premium lambs.

The company’s sales saw throughputs and averages increase and the Cheviot Mule exploded in popularity.

See Also: Performance Recording Helps Increase Lamb Control By £ 9,000 / year

Northern and Southern Cheviots have a hill and park type strain, which means the sheep can adapt to a variety of hill environments.

Farmers Weekly talks to three herders using Cheviots with a firm eye on the future.

Cheviot store lamb could save £ 9,200

The switch to Cheviot tups is part of a Dales farm plan to save £ 9,200 on winter costs by producing a more marketable store lamb for fall sales.

Paul Brown and his family in Swale Hall, Reeth, currently sell about 500 of their 1,000 lambs in store at Darlington Farmers Auction Mart (DFAM).

© MAG / Michael Priestley

Farm Facts: Swale Hall, Reeth

  • 200 Swaledales, 200 Mules, 300 Texel-cross
  • Sells 100-150 Mule gimmers per year
  • Single lambs outside, multiple lambs housed
  • 607ha (1,500 acres) of heather moors rented
  • 60 ha (150 acres) of unimproved pasture and 60 ha (150 acres) arable
  • Reseed 5 to 10 ha (12 to 25 acres) per year
  • Ground height up to 555m

Previously focused on fattening most of their breeding lambs and sucking off hoppers in the prairies, they transported 400 lambs in the winter for an average of nine weeks.

However, Cheviot crossbred lambs are highly sought after in August and September. Last year stores (mostly 35kg) sold between £ 75-108 per head.

The Browns were also impressed with the breed’s vigor at lambing.

“If the store price is £ 80, the wholesale price would have to be £ 103 nine weeks later to break even with winter costs into account,” says Brown.

He concedes that farmers who grow root crops can feed them for much less, but that’s not right on the farm.

Approximate cost of housing lambs in winter

  • Hard feeding £ 1.75 (£ 260 / t) per lamb per week: £ 15.75 per lamb for nine weeks
  • Wormed three times 60p a lamb
  • Mineral dosage £ 1 lamb
  • Dip for scabies 80p a lamb
  • Veterinarian and medicine 12p a lamb
  • Labor and fuel £ 3 lamb
  • 2% mortality at £ 90 per lamb (including disposal) £ 1.83 lamb
  • Total cost of accommodation £ 23 per lamb x 400 = £ 9,200

Historically, the farm raised pure Swaledales, selling draft ewes from a layered system, but a Swaledale tup has not been used for three years. Bluefaced Leicesters breed Mules for sale, and Texels and Suffolks are used as terminal bulls.

A group of 150 home-raised Swaledale crossbreed Cheviot pigs graze in the chute this summer. They will be mated to Hill type Cheviots, purchased again in Clitheroe this fall. This will hopefully add hybrid vigor, carcass quality and longevity to hill sheep, says Brown.

Some Mules and Texel crosses were sired by Park types bred by Stephen Dodsworth, a DFAM researcher, to add size, vigor and conformation to the lamb.

His herd is based 457m in Nenthead, Cumbria, where each lambing is recorded for lambing ease and vigor.

“I like the business orientation of the Cheviot breeders that I have met,” says Brown. “The rams run away from a sack of food.”

Hill Cheviots increases genetic potential by £ 4.30 per ewe

Genetic gains in prolificacy and maternal capacity increased ewe production in a North Country Cheviot Hill type herd in the Scottish Borders.

The Tennant family of Shaws Farm, Newcastleton, haven’t bought a tup for 28 years. Instead, they used the Signet registration to build on the hardiness, conformation, and vigor of the breed.

This was done using a specific maternal hill index to pick the best mothers and select for a manageable increase in twinning.

Kyle Thomson and Toby Tennant

Shepherd Kyle Thomson (left) with Toby Tennant © MAG / Michael Priestley

Farm Facts: Shaws Farm, Newcastleton

  • 607 ha (1,500 acres) of highland grassland, of which 100 ha (250 acres) are improved in-bye
  • 1,200 North Country Cheviots
  • 130 Angus cows calving in spring
  • Lamb from April 20 for two cycles
  • 1.2 m of precipitation / year
  • 65-70kg mature sheep

The pairing rate is systematically 66%, compared to 50% in 1993 when the recording of performances of bulls purely bred at home was launched.

The registered flock consists of five families of around 50 ewes, each with a different colored ear tag. All lambs produced on the farm are weighed and registered.

Historically, the herd has scanned at around 110%. Now the best sheep on the best soil is scanning at 160-170%, and the herd is on average 150%.

Taking into account 15% mortality (from scanning to weaning), this equates to 519 additional lambs reared each year on average. Since 2003, single eight-week weights have increased from 14-15 kg to 20-21 kg and twins from 11-12 kg to 17-18 kg.

At an approximate value of £ 2 / kg for store lambs (lamb equals eight weeks’ weight), that extra 5kg equals £ 10 per lamb, or £ 5,190 or 519 extra lambs – 4.30 £ per ewe out of 1,200 ewes.

“We improved the farm with lime and fern cuttings, so it’s not all genetic,” says Tennant. “Saving is extra work, but it’s worth it. “

The Tennant’s finish their lambs on the grass at the Tennant’s other 182 ha (450 acre) farm, Hartshaugh Mill at Bonchester Bridge, for sale at the Longtown Market at 42-45 kg.

Genetic advances have enabled the farm to sell 10-15 tups per year for £ 700-800.

However, Shepherd Kyle Thomson’s next plan is to improve breeding rates by housing all twins and carefully selecting which rams to buy, as inbreeding is 8-9.2%.

“It’s time to expand the gene pool, reduce risk and create more breeding options,” says Thomson.

Breeding company sees potential in Cheviot

Sheep genetics company Innovis invested in Cheviots after seeing the potential they have in low-input, extensive hill farms.

Bowhill Farming on the Buccleuch Estate has been a multiplier for Innovis since 2007 and now breeds Cheviots in partnership with Innovis at Eldinhope Farm near Selkirk.

Former mountain farm in sharecropping, Eldinhope and its 1600 Cheviots from the south of the country were taken over by the estate in 2017. It is under contract with the brothers Duncan and Callum Hume of Sundhope, the neighboring farm.

Callum (left) and Duncan Hume (right) with Sion Williams (center)

Callum (left) and Duncan Hume (right) with Sion Williams (center) © MAG / Michael Priestley

Cultivate facts: Eldinhope Farm, near Selkirk

  • 1,600 Cheviots from the south of the country
  • 1,416 ha (3,500 acre) grassy hill
  • Lamb for two cycles in April and May
  • 53 kg of mature sheep
  • Lambs average 20 kg at 10 weeks and lambs average 26 kg at 16 weeks
  • First rams for sale this year – 38 rams selected on top 25% index structure under review

Innovis manages the herd performance recording and the Humes are responsible for the management, as well as their own 1,380 South Country cattle and 80 Blue Gray cattle.

Sheep graze 10 hefts from a grassy hill up to 520m. The ewes are taken down to an in-bye field to lamb 10 days before lambing. A handful of enclosures are erected on the grounds – nothing ever gets inside.

A complete DNA profile of 300 sheep on the most difficult weight was carried out to find bulls of the most laborious genetics and the lambs are tagged on the tissues. Some registered rams – including those of the Tennants – were used to quickly get numbers into the herd.

After starting in The Beast from the East in 2018, waste rock rates have halved from 8% to 3.75% and lambs reared have dropped from 80% to 110%. The herd has used 6-7 t of oil cake and 6-7 t of boulders during the last winters.

The rest of the Innovis core breeds have moved from Aberystwyth and are in another location in Buccleuch, on the 263 ha (650 acre) Southfield farm.

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