How upland Easycare flock is rearing 170%

An upland flock has increased productivity by lifting scanning rates from 150% to 180% and used Beltex terminal sires to produce fast-growing lambs within supermarket specification.

A raft of changes has been made over the past six years by the Findlay family at Quarry Farm, near Whitby, which has helped improve output per hectare.

By improving forage quality, flock health and running smaller Easycare sheep, Richard Findlay has started to lift productivity and save on labour and costs.

See also: 6 ways to future-proof your sheep business

Lamb mortality after scanning has remained at 10%, meaning the flock is now rearing 1.7 lambs.

Meanwhile, using home-bred Beltex rams and high-index performance recorded Suffolks has ensured lambs can be off the farm from 10 weeks of age.

Farm facts: Quarry Farm

  • 102ha in bye land
  • 505ha of heather moor grazing rights in a Higher-Level Stewardship scheme
  • 850 Easycare ewes, of which 400 bred pure
  • 400 bred to Beltex and Suffolk terminal sires
  • 48-head pedigree Beltex flock
  • Three-quarter Beltex lambs sold at Skipton to help market Beltex rams
  • Lambs marketed to ABP through Seven Hill Farmers, an agricultural co-operative in the North York Moors


Reducing labour has been a major driver in changing the system.

As National Farmers Union livestock board chairman, Richard spends three or four days away from the farm and his eldest son, Will, is currently studying at Askham Bryan college.

Importantly, the higher scanning rates do not mean more work, following decisions to only select Easycare replacements from twins and build a slatted shed that has halved straw use.

Easycare route

Richard bought 250 Easycare ewes from Scotland in 2008 and bought another 200 to increase numbers in 2015.

Easycare ewes and rams are always sourced from upland/hill farms to ensure hardiness.

Prior to this, the farm ran a stratified system, running 1,200 Swaledale ewes on the moor, selling North Country gimmer lambs, draft ewes and prime lambs. 

The farm now runs close to 900 commercial sheep, of which half are bred to Beltex or high-index Suffolk rams to produce prime lambs and the remainder are bred pure for replacements.

Crossing Easycares to a Beltex leaves a 95% wool-shedding ewe, which means a faster-growing, shapelier lamb, while still saving on the labour of shearing, explains Will.

Will Findlay in field with sheep in the distance

Will Findlay

“We can target the three-quarter Beltex lambs out of Beltex cross Easycare ewes to the prime market,” he says.

“The important thing is that these gimmers still shed wool.”


Sheep lamb indoors in two main blocks.

A terminal sire flock in mid-March and a replacement flock from mid-April.

Lambs are creep-fed for the first six weeks before being weaned at the end of May, at which point the ewes are turned on to the moor for five months.

Grass is very lush in spring since reseeding started six years ago, which led to a lot of staggers in 2017 and 2018.

To counteract this, ewe rolls were fed containing three times the level of magnesium, only costing £1.50/t more.

Lambs get rotated round the improved pasture and usually start reaching target weight in June and July at 10-12 weeks.

Fast-growing Beltex lambs are drawn at 38kg liveweight (U or E grades), Beltex-cross and Suffolk-cross lambs at 40kg (U and R grades), and later lambs are drawn at 42kg because the Findlays have observed that kill-out percentages drop when lambs are on forage.

Ewes are brought into fields in November and typically start grazing kale after Christmas for one or two months before being housed and fed clamp silage in a slatted shed.

Ewes are penned according to scanning and body condition score, which is assessed every two weeks. Intakes of an 18% protein roll are increased ahead of lambing.

The sheep are moved on to straw ahead of lambing because Farm Assured rules do not permit lambing on slats.

Lambs are usually outside immediately, with very few individual pens used.

Ewes are mineral bolused for copper, cobalt and selenium.

Out of more than 700 ewes, only nine were empty at scanning last year (<1.28%).

Changes at Quarry Farm since 2013



Reseeding: 20% of the farm is reseeded annually, trialling Westerwolds, high sugar grasses, herbal mixes and small-leaf clover and chicory mixes. Soil is sampled every three years to keep pH at 6-6.5. 

Improved carrying capacity of the land, aiming to lamb 1,250-1,300 sheep in 2021 – 44% more than 2018. Able to finish lambs with less concentrate – 30% reduction in concentrate buying compared to six years ago.

Silage quality: This has become a priority in recent years. Grass is cut earlier at the start of June and clamped. It is analysed ahead of winter feeding.

The Findlays are producing a silage of 11-12% crude protein and 12-121.5 metabolisable energy. This has cut cake buying from 10t to 5t.

Forage production: Kale and forage rape have been grown in the past two years. Kale helps winter ewes and lambs are finished on forage rape in winter. Grass is sprayed off in May and direct drilled with kale/forage rape before being reseeded with high-sugar grasses the following year.

Producing higher-quality winter feed while improving grass quality through reseeding is helping maintain condition on ewes and is lifting scanning rates, which hit a farm record of 183% last year.

Teasers: Two teaser rams live on the farm. They go in 10-12 days ahead of tupping dates to tighten up lambing date before tups go in for 20 days. 

One-third of the sheep now lamb in four days. This helps get lambs away faster for a better price. A week can cost 10pkg on deadweight contracts in June.

Slatted shed: The farm has benefited from a slatted shed for six years. This was paid for with help from a Forestry and Farming Improvement Scheme grant, which paid for 50% of the costs.

Housing sheep inside for 10 weeks or more meant regular formaldehyde foot-baths were needed. This is now not the case. Sheep stay clean and straw use had reduce from 20t to less than 10t. Furthermore, sheep stay cleaner and cooler and bacteria is reduced.

Smaller sheep: Easycare ewes weigh 60-65kg, which means that, with ad-lib concentrate feeding of lambs for six weeks, the sheep wean their weight. Lambs average 30kg at eight weeks old, with the older ones being 34kg at 10 weeks.

Some Mules are still on the farm, which are very productive animals, often scanning at more than 200%. However, the smaller, Easycare ewes are 10-15kg lighter than the Mules. Pre-lambing pens can house 120 Mules and 140 Easycares. The pen of Mules will rear 216 lambs at 1.8 lambs reared after scanning at more than 200%. The Easycare pen will rear 238 lambs at 1.7 lambs reared after scanning at 180%, which is 22 lambs more for the same amount of feed.