Dont hang on to old ewes
Keeping older ewes is not a
viable option despite low
prices and little chance of a
cull ewe scheme.
Jeremy Hunt reports
A CULL ewe scheme now looks unlikely, but holding on to old ewes to breed half-bred lambs is not the solution.
Cumbria sheep producer Joe Hodgson believes a cull ewe scheme could have cleared the decks this autumn. Instead he will have to take whatever the market will give him for the 150 old ewes he plans to sell in late October.
"They have got to go. There is nothing to be gained by keeping them. They will just clog up the system. But a cull ewe scheme would have helped," says Mr Hodgson, who runs Stybeck Farm, Thirlmere, near Keswick, with his wife, Jean, and twin sons Chris and Mike.
The family business is mixed. There are about 60 dairy cows as well as a hill flock of 600 sheep – including hoggs and shearlings – half of which are pure Herdwick.
Easing the limitations of this Lake District hill farm are two blocks of lower land near the Cumbrian coast extending to 32ha (80 acres) and 56ha (140 acres). At Stybeck Farm there is 70ha (175 acres) of in-bye ground plus grazing on 344ha (850 acres) of fell.
To produce a more valuable lamb with better conformation and a slightly higher wool value, Cheviot rams have been used for the last four years, predominantly on the Swaledale x Herdwick section of the flock.
Wethers, sold as stores or finished on the farm, have produced a more chunky type of lamb compared with traditional Herdwick or cross-Swaledales. Cheviot-sired ewe lambs are being retained and put back to the Cheviot tup.
"Most ewes are usually five or six-years-old when they go. The older ewes cross well with the Cheviot after four crops, but despite the low price there is nothing to be gained by keeping ewes longer than we would normally do once their mouths have gone," says Mr Hodgson.
The Cheviot-cross ewes being introduced into the flock should produce an even better three-quarter bred Cheviot lamb. But the Cheviot influence needs a different style of management. "Cheviot ewes cant go to the fell in winter, but when Cheviot-cross lambs are worth an extra £3-£4 a head it is something you cant ignore when hill incomes are under such pressure."