Better returns with uplands crossbreeding
CROSS breeding is almost unheard of in France, with lamb traditionally produced from purebred flocks, but upland producer France Boulanger has used it to boost returns.
Mrs Boulanger has upgraded her flock of Thones et Marthod hill sheep over the past 10 years using Hampshire Down terminal sires imported from Ireland. "Crossbred lambs perform just as well as hill breeds on pasture at more than 3000ft above sea level."
Ewes lamb during March on the lowland unit and are moved to upland areas in May. Lambs are finished entirely on grass, reaching the target liveweight of 40kg at 12-16 weeks. "This is more than two months earlier than Thones et Marthod purebred lambs," she says.
The flock is achieving 1.35 lambs sold a ewe with a lambing percentage of 160%. This is similar to 1.4 lambs a ewe with the native purebred hill breeds.
Another advantage of cross breeding is that finished lambs fetch an extra 15p/kg liveweight. This is due to improved carcass grading, with most lambs classifying R and having higher killing out percentages, says Mrs Boulanger.
Kevin McCarthy of the Hampshire Down Breed Society says the breed has good growth rates on poor grazing areas due to its high feed conversion. "This is why they complement native hill breeds so well.
"They are easy maintenance sheep capable of looking after themselves in upland areas. The biggest problem is dogs, with more than 200 ewes savaged last year," says Mrs Boulanger.
Three donkeys were added to the flock to protect against attacks and so far, no losses have occurred. When a dog appears, the flock moves behind the donkeys which attack the dog.