8 March 1996

up Brit sheep

French snap

More than 600,000 visitors walked through the doors of the Salon International de lAgriculture last week where 750 cattle, 700 sheep, 50 pigs and 70 goats were on display. With the show based in Paris one of the main themes was to educate the public on where food originates. There were, however, many other messages to be heard, as

Rebecca Austin reports

WITHIN hours of the show opening most sheep displayed on British Meats stand were sold to French producers.

As production costs continue to squeeze margins, producers are keen to breed out-of-season to catch the high prices at a time when UK lamb exports are lowest.

And breeding commercial lambs from pedigree ewes is proving uneconomical so producers are turning to crossbreds such as Mule x Dorset ewes which are then bred to a terminal sire.

Sue Farquhars two Shropshire gimmers from Hansnett Farm, Ledbury, Salop, sold for £150 each to a commercial producer. "From the Paris show I have put the first pedigree sheep into Denmark and Austria – where they were put on milk sheep – since the war, as well as 60 ewes into France. "

Pedigree stock with performance records are also in demand. Last year David and Judy Hiam from Presteigne, Powys, sold two of their rams which were part of the Suffolk Sire Reference Scheme to the French Suffolk breed society (UPRA). They have since been progeny tested on commercial ewes.

This year they bought over two gimmers which achieved growth rates of 425g/day and 430g/day against the French breed average of 314g/day at 70 days. The Hiams were looking for offers in the region of £700 each.

The Blue-faced Leicesters, in the form of a ram from the Penglas flock at Aberystwyth, Wales, were at the show for the first time. There were also some Poll Dorsets from David Matthews farm at Bridgend, Glamorgan. Two Dorset x Mules, which Jim Dufosee from Wiltshire sold to Graham Savage, who farms in France, were also on display.

Mules imported by Producteur Ovins de Qualite Controlee (POQC) were also at the show. POQC is partnered by Robert Bell, Kendal, Cumbria, Frank Park, Bannerigg, Windemere, and Christian du Plessis, Saint-Bomer.

It imported 300 Mules into France last year, although 3000 cross the channel each year. They average about £70 a head.

There are also 100 Mules on trial in the Azures which, if all goes well, will convert into an order for 1000 ewes, says Mr Bell.

Swaledales and Blackfaces are becoming increasingly popular in the South of France where they live on the mountains. Ewes, which cost about £64 each, are crossed with Berrichon du Cher and the resulting small lambs are ideal for the lucrative Spanish and Italian markets.

The Paris Show means success for the small breeder, said Sue Farquar after selling her Shropshire gimmers on the first day.