HIGH health status and embryo transfer are the key features of North Yorks sheep producer Ralph Aldersons strategy for business survival.
Mr Alderson is concentrating on multiplying up the best females in his pedigree flock of Charollais sheep at The Beeches, Carthorpe, Bedale, North Yorks. Since buying his first three Charollais ewes in l994, his flock has grown to 70 pedigree breeding animals. He would like 100 ewes, which he feels would provide a full-time job.
But space is proving a limiting factor. Numbers have already outgrown his limited accommodation – a farmstead with just 0.6ha (1.5 acres) of rented grass. His response has been to aim for high margins by ensuring his stock achieve the highest possible health status. The flock, which is Signet recorded, is Maedi Visna accredited and fully accredited under the Premium Health Scheme.
Lack of space limits embryo transfer work to only one ewe each year. For each ewe flushed, he needs up to eight recipients. But Mr Alderson does not have the space for a big enough recipient pool without cutting back on pedigree numbers.
Last year seven viable eggs were flushed from the donor ewe, resulting in the birth of four lambs which cost him £250 each.
Working with Edinburgh Genetics, he is keen to continue his involvement with embryo transfer work. Demonstrating his commitment to the technology, embryo transfer lambs will be included in his Great Yorkshire Show team.
An unexpected benefit of embryo transfer work has been extra income in the form of manufacturing special sheep cradles in his farm workshop for Edinburgh Genetics.
Designed for flushing and AI work, Mr Alderson says the cradles are more welfare friendly for the sheep than conventional designs and improve working conditions for operators. He also hopes his workshop handiwork will lift conception rates. *
Ralph Alderson shows one of his flock of 70 pedigree Charollais sheep at Carthorpe, Bedale. Right: Mr Alderson generates much needed extra income by manufacturing sheep cradles in his farm workshop.