17 May 1996

KEEN CHAMPIONS OF THE LLEYN…

By Robert Davies

GWILYM HUGHES and his sister, Dorothy, still run 150 pure bred Lleyn ewes and 35 ewe lambs, although they no longer sell registered sheep. They found delaying ewe lamb marketing until the society sales often left them short of grass for their 40 dairy cows.

Now only the best 40 ewes are put to Lleyn tups to produce flock replacements. The rest stand to Suffolk rams. All progeny are finished by July, by when the exposed coastal farm has often burnt up.

Tan-y-Bryn is located at the tip of the Lleyn peninsula, and extends to 49ha (120 acre). On three sides it is closed to the sea. While this provides some climatic benefits, it also means the unit is very exposed to winds that scream over the nearby, very aptly named, Hellsmouth headland.

Severe weather

Conditions were very severe in Jan 1995, so lambing was moved back one month this year. The farm has carried Lleyn sheep since the partners took over in 1945, and over five decades the breed has amply demonstrated its ability to cope with tough weather.

Until 1971 Lleyn sheep were largely confined to the immediate area. Based on a mixture of Irish and Welsh bloodlines, there were fewer than 3000 head when the breed society was formed by Mr Hughes and nine other enthusiasts. An injection of Roscommon blood then broadened the genetic base.

The breed also benefited from a group improvement scheme run by MLC and Bangor University College. This identified larger framed ewes suitable for modern prime lamb production, when bred pure or crossed with popular terminal sires. Membership has grown steadily to total 400 – about 85% of whom register sheep.

Good characteristics

There are now more than 40,000 pedigree Lleyn ewes, and a very large number of crosses with many of the breeds good characteristics.

"The ewes are fairly hardy, and have excellent mothering and milking ability," Mr Hughes said at his farm open day. "They have a quiet temperament and are very easy to manage. Unlike the tack ewes we winter, they stay inside fences and show no urge to wander.

"Many of them last for seven years. They are excellent foragers, and do their lambs very well. A group of six Suffolk cross single lambs born on Feb 20 this year, which were not creep fed, weighed an average of 34kg (75lb) on Apr 24. We can take pure Lleyn lambs or the crosses to around 38kg without getting them too fat."

The aim is to push towards a lambing percentage of 200% – if this can be achieved without too many sets of triplets. Weighing has shown that the total birth weight of triplets is the same as twins, so lambs tend to be smaller and weaker. This year there were five sets of triplets, 97 sets of twins, and 54 singles. &#42

This year is the Lleyn Sheep Societys silver jubilee. The first official Scottish Border sale is set for Carlisle in September. Wild horses wouldnt keep founder members Gwilym Hughes and his sister, Dorothy, away.