By Debbie James
Focusing on ram breeding to be profitable in a commercial sheep farming situation is proving a winning formula for a Welsh sheep farm.
Far from needing rams that win awards at shows, most of Gary and Meinir Howells’ clients want an animal with a good body with lots of length and muscle, with a proportional head that is not too powerful. .
Ninety-five percent of the rams supplied by Shadog Farm, near Llandysul, are sold to commercial herds.
“We see a lot of ranchers looking for rams with big, powerful heads and fancy colors, but that’s not what the commercial farmer wants,” says Gary, who has been farming since leaving the farm. school 25 years ago.
Many of their customers buy up to six rams per year.
“People are happy with them because they make them and they do it so well – someone called us a year or so about three weeks after buying the tups and said the tups looked better than they did when they did. they bought them! It was nice to hear.
Gary and Meinir do not crawl any of their ram lambs in their first year, allowing the animals to grow naturally on grass and forage.
Pushing ram lambs hard on concentrates and then expecting them to perform well in a grass-based system as yearlings is illogical, suggests Gary.
Growing them naturally helps the rumen to develop and he has reassuring reports from his customers that tups last for many years.
Rams must adapt to management diets that do not require large amounts of additional feed, Gary explains.
“The feedback we get is that they continue to improve and develop and become big, strong sheep. ”
The MV accredited Ty Cam herd was started in the 1970s by his parents, John and Ann, when they purchased a Texel ram at the UK’s first import sale.
More than 40 years later, the baton has passed to Gary and Meinir.
The family has since increased the number of pedigree Texel ewes to 350 ewes; they also breed 35 pure Suffolks, 35 pure Charollais ewes which they cross with a Beltex to produce cross rams, 30 Blue-faced Leicesters and 40 registered Balwens.
At 490 ewes, the flock scale does not lend itself to pampering individual ewes.
“When you have so many sheep that you can’t pamper each one, they have to be worker-workers and able to take care of themselves, to survive in pretty harsh conditions. They are all run on a very commercial basis, ”says Meinir, who divides her time between the farm and her part-time role as a presenter on S4C’s Welsh-language farm program“ Ffermio ”.
The rams are returned with the ewes at the end of September, for lambs at the beginning of March.
Until 2017 all herds were natural, but after investing £ 5,800 in a ram, Roxburgh Winston, bought from Kelso, synchronization and artificial insemination were introduced and have since been used on around 140 ewes per year. , to take full advantage of this investment.
Over the past two years, the family has made full use of insemination by purchasing rams in conjunction with other herds.
“It is very difficult to find the type of tup we need these days, the emphasis is far too much on breeding rams with massive and flashy heads and not enough emphasis by breeders to stay on the basics of breed, which are length, straight top lines and carcass, ”explains Gary.
“When we meet a strong and robust ram, everyone is also after him, so it makes sense to share the cost with someone else.”
One ram that has reproduced exceptionally well in Shadog is Blaencar Bandit, a ram that the Howells jointly own with Geoff Morgan of Blaencar Texels.
Most of the ewes gave birth on March 20 and the lambs begin to lamb in early April.
Lambs are not fed on the fly and ewes carrying singles do not receive any concentrate before or after lambing; if the climatic conditions are not too extreme and the grass growth is favorable, the paired ewes do not receive concentrates either.
“If the sheep can’t raise its lambs on the grass, they’re not there for another lambing,” Meinir explains.
The family operates 450 acres and operates 40 suckler cattle, including the Shadog Limousins pedigree, as well as the sheep business.
Gary and Meinir also buy bull heifers for calving and sell them as cows with calves on their feet.
What started as a new business with 15 heifers three years ago has now grown to 51.
“There is nothing better than seeing a calf born, and the buzz and sense of accomplishment we get when selling a group of heifers can’t be beat. ”