Investing in cross-breeds to meet consumer demands could help maximise lamb carcass values, believes one Cheshire sheep farmer.

After making a switch from pedigree sheep production, Paul Slater has been breeding cross-breeds since 1990, investing in Beltex cross Texel and Beltex cross Charollais breeding lines in 1998.

Showcasing his homebred progeny at the NSA Sheep Event , he described the breed as the answer to the British sheep industry.

See also: Sheep sector ‘vision’ report predicts bright future for UK lamb

Mr Slater has always worked alongside the abattoirs to which he supplies his lambs and said the experience had enabled him to revalue the stock he is producing.

“When you work closely with an abattoir, you get a detailed understanding of how your carcasses are grading out and an appreciation of the traits that processors, retailers and, ultimately, the end-users want. Something we as an industry cannot afford to ignore.

“Crossing the Beltex with either Texel or Charollais sires enables me to produce balanced stock,” explained Mr Slater. “This cross delivers progeny the size of the Texel or Charollais, but with the confirmation of the Beltex.

“When the Beltex is crossed it has vigorous growth. What’s more, the progeny have enhanced breeding traits for butchers’ lambs, including a greater depth of loin and larger eye muscle.”

In total, Mr Slater’s sheep enterprise is made up of 1,150 breeding ewes, including 350 ewe lambs and 28 stock rams.

His main business is now the production of cross-bred shearling rams and he’s selling about 550 annually. In order to produce top-quality breeding stock, Mr Slater relies on a finishing diet of sugar beet feed, grass and hay.

“From six months of age I feed shearling rams 1-1.5lb [400-600g] of molassed sugar beet pellets and maintain this until two months before they are sold in September, when I up the ration to 2lbs [900g].

“If the diet is made up of just cereals, condition can slip off fairly quickly. I find that once I get the condition on the rams, they’re fleshed out hardy and it stays on, which is important for rams as tupping approaches.”

Body condition score of tups

Monitoring and maintaining the body condition score (BCS) of tups is crucial in the next few weeks as sheep farmers prepare for tupping season.

Michael Marsden, technical manager for Trident Feeds, stressed the relevance of monitoring the condition of tups well before tupping starts.

“Producers should be aiming for a BCS of about 3.5 at mating.

“Overfat tups will be lazy and not work at the required rate and thin tups may have difficulty getting ewes pregnant,” explained Dr Marsden.

Once the tups mix with the ewes they may reduce their feed intakes significantly.

“A ram may lose up to 15% of his bodyweight during the breeding season. It’s therefore necessary for them to have access to a palatable diet containing sugar beet feed, especially as the quality and quantity of grass is starting to fall.”