Sheep Breed Change Reduces Outdoor Lambing Costs

Low cost, low cost flock operation was the driving force behind Marc Jones’ decision to switch from lambing inside Texel crosses to lambing Lleyn ewes outside.

Traditionally Mr Jones, who farms in partnership with his father David and mother Jane at Trefnant Hall Farm on the estate in Powis, Wales, lambed 1,200 Texel crosses indoors.

But now he’s downsized that herd to 400 and has a herd of 500 Lleyns, which he plans to grow to 1,000 by keeping 200-300 home-reared replacements per year.

The replacement of Texel’s herd should hopefully be completed within the next two years, he says.

Breed choice

The move to Lleyns began in September 2009, when Mr. Jones purchased 150 Lleyn ewes, a breed known to lamb easily outdoors.

He also chose Lleyns because of their good performance on turf and increased efficiency due to their smaller size.

“Because they only weigh 62kg, we can keep more than one hectare [than the Texel-crosses], which is essential to run a profitable business, ”says Mr Jones, whose profit per hectare is £ 332.14 (see table for financial breakdown).

Financial breakdown of the sheep business by head 2014
Go out £ 108.72
Variable costs £ 47.06
Gross margin £ 61.66
Fixed costs £ 34.15
Profit before rent and financing £ 27.15
Benefit from one hectare (before sharing the benefits of the partnership) £ 332.1

Since the start of the change on the 202 ha farm, wintering the Lleyns has resulted in significant savings in feed costs.

Food savings

The 4ha strip grazing of rutabagas will feed 500 sheep for two and a half months. Mr. Jones says it was the exceptional 13 t DM / ha of forage crops this year that made the high stocking possible.

“During the winter period it costs £ 4.00-4.50 per ewe to keep them outside on the rutabagas, which includes land rental, no-till, cost of seeds and fertilizer. By comparison, Texel crosses cost £ 25 per head to keep indoors for the same period – including straw, concentrates, silage, machinery and labor, ”he explains. .

In addition to the fact that rutabagas are a low-cost, high-energy source of food, Jones says feeding forage crops during the winter saves grass, which is less energetic, but above all, richer in protein.

The ewes can then be transferred to these pastures three to four weeks before lambing, when they need the higher protein content in their feed for colostrum and milk production.

Grass quickly slipped out of their hands last year due to under-storage. However, learning as he went along, Jones has steadily increased the area devoted to forage crops, planting an additional 4 ha this year.

A benefit in return comes from the greater reseeding area that takes place after the use of forage crops.

“The stocking rate has been able to increase by an additional 100 sheep per year in recent years due to the higher productivity of long-term high-sugar ryegrass seeds compared to permanent pastures,” explains Mr. Jones.

The extra Lleyns in the herd will also help stay on top of the grass on steeper terrain that cannot be used for silage, he adds.

Fixed costs

By switching to a fully outdoor system, it also aims to cut fixed farm costs by 30% of £ 34.15 per head (before rent and finance). Today, more than 70% of this expenditure is made up of the costs of buildings, labor, energy and machinery.

“Once fully converted, we can get rid of our forage harvester, one of our tractors, save on manpower and buildings would no longer be needed to house the stock during the winter,” he says.

In fact, when fully converted and in addition to the reduction in fixed costs, Mr Jones calculates that each Lleyn will be worth £ 15 per head more than Texel crosses, based on a reduced feed bill and keeping the lambs sheep in the flock as breeding replacements. .

Build the herd

But the constitution of the herd was not easy. After buying 100 ewes in 2010, Mr Jones found that the second batch of ewes consistently scanned 15-20% less than the first, which averaged 180%, the ideal percentage for a breed of lambing in full swing. air.

Since Mr. Jones’ performances record all sheep and have been recorded by Signet for five years, he was able to use his EID records to easily group the herd based on age, body condition, health. or batch to try to identify the cause of the low scan percentage.

“The two groups had been run the same way, so it was clear that the only thing it could be was genetics,” says Jones.

As he was still building the Lleyns herd, getting rid of any suboptimal fertility was not an option. Instead, Mr. Jones used EBVs to carefully select which rams to use on this batch to compensate for their lower prolificacy.

“In the past, I would focus on the overall ram index, but Signet advised me to look at specific traits. So I focused on the litter size and the number of fecal eggs, as we also have a problem with the triple dewormer. resistance, ”says Jones.

Focusing on the traits most likely to solve herd problems and ensuring that rams purchased are in the top 1% of the breed for maternal traits and carcasses will maximize genetic progress.

Not settling for genetics alone to improve the fertility of the ewes, Mr Jones rinsed the ewes by grazing them in rotation with an additional 20 tons of fodder beets scattered across the fields, at a cost of 80 pence / head.

“The grass is usually quite wet in November, so the forage beets should have given them an extra boost of energy before they were planted,” he says.


Lleyn’s tups come in on November 5 at a ratio of 1:90 ewes and 1:50 lambs to ewes. High Index Rams individually mate Lleyns for a cycle and a half, before a New Zealand Suffolk is set up to catch those not in the lamb. Lambing begins on April 1 to allow optimal grass growth.

Upstream and during lambing, ewes are stored at the rate of 5 acre for those with twins and 15 to 20 for singles and checked three times a day.

“The biggest problem is the singles getting too big. It’s amazing how tight you have to keep them – you think there’s no grass up front, but you still have to keep them tighter, ”says Jones.

At birth, lambs are tagged and crossed with their mothers. Seeding continues until the lambs are large enough to graze in rotation with their mothers.

Future of the herd

Performance recording has been an essential tool for Mr. Jones in assessing individual ewe productivity.

The weight of the lamb at eight weeks is the key performance indicator for Mr Jones, who says the growth of the lamb is purely due to the ewe at this stage.

“All the ewes whose lambs have died are slaughtered at this point. [eight weeks post lambing] as this is usually due to poor mothering ability.

At 21 weeks, the weight of the lambs is again measured, along with analyzes of muscle depth and fat. The numbers can identify ewes that produced poor lambs and these will be slaughtered at weaning with the sheep in the bottom 10% for their Signet numbers.

Ease of lambing, lamb deaths and ewe sweep percentage are also recorded to aid herd management decisions.

“The goal is to increase the genetic progress of the whole herd, not just the privileged few,” he adds.

To further improve productivity, Mr Jones has invested around £ 4,000 to become maedi visna (MV) accredited. He believes that the long-term effect of the absence of disease on production will be enormous.

“Once we build the Lleyn count, we will be able to sell breeding lambs to MV Accredited Lleyn Society Sales. The MV accreditation will hopefully give us a premium of £ 15-20 over non-MV accredited herds.

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