13 August 1999

Lleyns hold their profits

By James Garner

OVERALL sheep flock margins may be down, but many Lleyn flockmasters have been able to maintain profits bolstered by good breeding stock prices.

These premiums may not last, but switching ewe breeds has worked well for Lleyn 99 hosts John and Carol Burrows of Luscombe Farm, Snittersfield, Warks, who keep a closed flock of 450 Lleyn ewes lambing in January and March.

"The idea of being self-contained is good and Id rather be selling breeding ewes than buying them," said Mrs Burrows. A closed flock makes it easier to keep flock health status high and with stock traceability required today it has to be right, she added.

The flocks high health status means vaccination policy is reduced to pasteurella and clostridial control; abortion and foot-rot control are unnecessary.

But despite these advantages, Mr Burrows has few doubts breeding prices will fall this year. "Inevitably they will be lower, but I hope there will still be a small premium available over other commercial ewe breeds."

The fact that commercial flockmasters have suddenly discovered Lleyns as a multi-purpose ewe breed gives Mr Burrows hope for demand again this year.

Shearling ewes and rams are sold at breed society sales each year. Depending on cull ewes, about half of ewe lambs reared are kept as replacements or sold as breeding stock the following year. Those lambs which do not make pedigree grades are sold as slaughter lambs, averaging 18-20kg carcass weights and R3L for conformation and fat class.

March born lambs finish off grass, but some stragglers may need concentrates, said Mr Burrows. January born lambs are creep fed hitting the early May prime market. This year lambs were sold live instead of deadweight.

"We were not receiving sufficient premiums for better quality lambs." But this seasons low prices have made it difficult to make comparisons between liveweight or deadweight selling, he added.

Maintaining margins also means technical efficiency. Trying to keep costs low means using grass efficiently, said Mr Burrows. Three-year leys cover half the 40ha (100 acres) of grass, the rest is permanent pasture.

"Every year one ley is ploughed up. Reseeding mixtures.must have high clover content and a palatable grass mix for sheep, containing tetraploid ryegrasses."

But to achieve all-year-round grazing, both early and late varieties are used. "In spring ewes and lambs graze all the grass area, but stocking rates are then tightened and a conservation cut is taken to control grass growth."

Nitrogen fertiliser use has been cut because of clover content. "Too much nitrogen also spoils palatabilty," he added.

Despite new leys, dependence on permanent pasture restricts clean grazing options. "Ideally we put young stock on new leys, but this is not always possible because half our grass is permanent and we might not have enough feed."

This also prompted a move to January lambing a third of the ewes, although having stock for shows and breeding sales were other considerations. Cervical AI techniques are used to inseminate ewes with fresh semen, achieving conception rates of 80% to first service.

As a self-contained flock, all sheep are ear-tagged and Signet recorded. EBVs are part of selection policy of breeding sheep on Luscombe farm, but they use their eye for stock as well. "Selection on paper figures alone would give a funny looking flock."

But despite Lleyns many good points it is a smaller ewe than traditional commercial breeding ewes, he added.

"They dont compete as a feeder if mixed with other breeds, especially indoors." When trough feeding or housing, he suggests housing them separately. Also because of their size, broad Texel rams can cause lambing difficulties.

Charollais rams used with Lleyns make a good terminal sire for fat lamb production, he added.

Flock management.

&#8226 Closed flock.

&#8226 Breeding stock sales.

&#8226 Grass re-seeds.