Less can be more

Charley Walker’s 400 ewes will be turned out with just five rams this year.

That’s almost double his previous ram:ewe ratio, but he’s been doing it for long enough to know it works.

He farms at Barnside, Abbey St Bathans, near Duns and runs a flock of predominantly New Zealand Romney and Romney x Mules at 270m (900ft).

Four years ago Mr Walker bought his first New Zealand Romney tups from Castle Douglas breeder Marcus Maxwell and immediately doubled his ram ratio compared with the rate he’d been using for Suffolks and Texels.

“I wanted the hardiness, vigour and easycare of the New Zealand Romney and within that was the ability of tups to take a big number of ewes,” says Mr Walker.

The flock lambs in May, so tups are managed on good grass up to tupping in December.

They are usually run as one group with the entire ewe flock and are not fed during the mating period.

After two cycles – they are harnessed for the second – rams are taken out and fed big-bale silage.

No tups receive any hard feed, he explains.

“They’re fit when they go out and are still fighting fit when they come back in and carrying just as much flesh.

Rams are reared solely on grass and maintain the ability to hold their flesh.

They aren’t dependent on hard feed to sustain them over tupping time.

“This has to be a practical system.

We want to get the most from our rams, but also want to use the kind of sheep that will pass on traits of natural growth and hardiness to their progeny.

“We’re certainly finding lambs produced by this type of ram put flesh on far more easily than lambs sired by rams that rely on hard feed for growth.”

Breeding performance over a four-year average puts the flock’s conception rate at 96.1%; scanning at 166% and number of lambs tailed at 147%.

Mr Walker also has a good trade for shearlings.

“We’re selling shearlings between £300 and £350.

We’ve got four-year-old rams still working and showing no sign of wear and tear despite their high work rate.

“It’s costing about £1 to produce each lamb and we’re getting 60% of our Romney-sired lambs finished by August,” he adds.