11 June 1999

Swaledale Four scrapie scheme

FOUR Cumbria farmers are working together to improve the scrapie resistance of their Swaledale ewes through a joint AI project using a Class A rated Swaledale ram.

And two-thirds of the cost – not including the price of the ram – is being met by an EC and MAFF grant.

The first AI-sired lambs were on show at a demonstration organised by the Northern Uplands Moorland Regeneration Project – funded through the ECs 5b scheme – at the Dixon familys Rakehead Farm, Nateby, near Kirkby Stephen.

"We decided to make use of the genotyping information now available for rams through the Swaledale Sheep Breeders Association and investigate an AI project. The aim was to use a highly resistant Class A rated Swaledale ram to improve the scrapie resistance of our ewes," said Jonathan Dixon, speaking on behalf of the four flock owners who bought the ram at the breed associations official sale at Kirkby Stephen last autumn.

"Although there is expected to be an increasing number of highly scrapie resistant A rated tups available in future, as yet only 8-10% are falling into this category.

"And because, by the law of averages only a small percentage of those will be of the right quality, the four flocks decided to make a joint investment in an A rated ram and make an immediate start on our programme."

The Rakehead Farm flock selected 300 ewes – including mature sheep and shearlings – for sponging in preparation for AI; sponges were removed after 12 days and all sheep were injected with PMSG. Only 15 sheep lost sponges prior to the removal date.

"We did experience some problems removing sponges from the shearlings, none of which had lambed before, but this did not affect their conception rate," said Mr Dixon.

Laparoscopic AI was undertaken by Edinburgh Genetics and achieved 126 singles, 129 twins and 14 triplets; 22 ewes did not hold to AI but lambed later to natural service.

Gross cost of the AI procedure – including sponges, PMSG and insemination – was around £10 a ewe.

The AI programme within the four flocks will run for three years.

"This type of AI project is the fastest way hill flocks can achieve a higher level of scrapie resistance. This must be in the long term interest of the industry and the continued export market for our store lambs," said Mr Dixon. The Rakehead Farm gimmer lambs from this first year of the project will be mated as shearlings to Class A rated tups.

The other farmers involved in the project are Messrs Buckle, Stainmore, Kirkby Stephen, David Dixon from Kirkby Stephen and the Bell Brothers, from North Yorks.

New sheep housing grants are offered

SHEEP producers whose flocks graze heather moorland could have access to cash to help build new sheep housing before next winter under the Northern Uplands Moorland Regeneration Project.

Saya Harvey, the project manager, disclosed to FARMERS WEEKLY that applications for sheep housing and up to 40% grant could be approved within as little as two months.

"The project aims to integrate agricultural, sporting and environmental objectives to increase farm incomes, create jobs and enhance the upland environment.

"One of the conservation aims involves alleviating grazing pressure on heather moorland during the winter by taking sheep off the moor and housing them.

"Where tenant farmers are concerned, if there is a landlord whose shooting interests would benefit from reduced grazing pressure during the winter, it is possible that the 40% project grant for a sheep house could be topped up by perhaps another 20-30% from the landlord," said Miss Harvey.

She was adamant that producers who visited the demonstration and who felt they wanted to become involved in the project would not have a protracted waiting time.

"We are looking for grants to be a part of an integrated management plan but we also want to make applications as simple as possible. Money should be available immediately; the aim is to make things happen as soon as we can."

Interested farmers within the project area, which stretches from north Lancashires Forest of Bowland, across to the Yorkshire Dales and north to the Cheviot Hills, should contact the project office at Richmond, North Yorks (01833-621061).

Miss Harvey said any farmer in the project area running a hill flock on heather moorland qualifies to make an application. Producers grazing commons are being treated as a priority.

It is hoped that at least four sheep houses will be built and in use by next winter funded by producers who have made applications for the grant.

In addition, the project offers grants for bracken control, heather re-seeding, access roads, sheep grazing control – walling, feeding equipment and shepherding, sheep management – preparation of a health plan, ration formulation, blood sampling, and grouse management.

20 years under cover…

SHEEP have been housed at Rakehead Farm, Nateby, Kirkby Stephen, for 20 years. The buildings originally accommodated 2500 of the farms 3500 ewes.

The farm business is now split, with Jonathan Dixon in partnership with son Paul running 2000 ewes at Rakehead, while other son David has 1500 ewes at nearby Hartley Castle.

The first ewes are housed in early January and the sheds are full by mid-February in preparation for lambing to start on Mar 25. Sheep are fed silage twice day from a forage box and a once-a day ration of beet pulp and distillers grains (low in copper) at the rate of 3:2 costing around £85/t this winter.

About four weeks pre-lambing a second feed of concentrates is introduced. All ewes are scanned at housing and grouped accordingly.

"In the winter our common grazings are inaccessible which meant keeping ewes on in-bye land. We ended up with a morass on the inside fields and so decided to house sheep 20 years ago even though the experts told us we would have all sorts of problems. I am glad to say they were wrong," said Jonathan Dixon.