Early turnout regime

28 September 2001

Early turnout regime

produces hardy tups

By Jeremy Hunt

Turning out pedigree Suffolk ewes with week-old lambs onto hill land at 360m (1200ft) in mid-January may be unconventional, but it is beneficial to autumn ram buyers.

Thats the thinking behind Adrian Leachs approach to producing terminal sires for the commercial prime lamb producer.

His Owlers Farm at Hebden Bridge, West Yorks, can be a bleak spot in mid-winter, but by late summer lambs bred on this remote hill unit are showing the benefits of their tough upbringing.

"Ewes are kept outside until just a few days before lambing and are out again by the time lambs are a week old, even when theres snow on the ground.

"We see the benefit in terms of health and vigour in ewes and their lambs and a much more even growth rate of lambs after weaning in April."

Mr Leach, who previously spent two years working with the Mairs well-known Muiresk Suffolk flock in Aberdeenshire, runs 40 pedigree Suffolk ewes alongside 100 Texel-crosses and 30 suckler cows on his tenanted unit.

Next year, he plans to double the number of Suffolks, which includes several Muiresk foundation ewes, increase sucklers to 40 head and sell his commercial ewes.

He knows his type of small hill farming enterprise faces an uphill struggle. His fencing business generates essential income, but he is convinced his approach to producing genuine, top quality terminal sires on a no-frills regime is fulfilling the needs of commercial ram buyers.

"I used to keep Suffolk lambs inside for weeks. But lambs that are stuffed and molly-coddled just get full of puppy fat.

"When they dont get outside early enough, they take a real check at weaning and it can take time to get them going forward again. I aim to have a much hardier and tougher lamb by weaning and it can be done, even with a seven-month winter."

Mr Leach believes the development of lambs legs can also benefit from the freedom associated with being turned out early. "Our lambs are much better on their legs since we started turning out at a week old. We have few foot problems."

But conformation is equally important. Testament to the complete package that Mr Leach aims to produce came last season when a 91kg ram stood supreme champion at the breed societys show and sale at Skipton. He also plans to attain RR scrapie-free status for all stock.

"My aim is to breed tup lambs with good skins and good conformation. The main trade is commercial tups – breeding a tup for pedigree work is a bonus."

Mr Leachs approach to tup breeding is in line with other changes underway within the breed, which are designed to meet commercial buyers needs.

"Over-dressing of Suffolk tups is becoming out-dated; apart from some minor tidying up on the belly, neck and tail.

"A sheep presented in a natural state helps give commercial buyers a true picture of its conformation."

He believes the future is a thicker type of Suffolk with even better hindquarter conformation.

Bone has long been a contentious topic among Suffolk supporters. Pedigree breeders have often been accused of being pre-occupied with bone, while commercial prime lamb producers maintain it is purely aesthetic.

"The Suffolk may be undergoing changes that will benefit the prime lamb producer, but I still maintain youve got to have strong bone to carry a good body," he says.

"Ram buyers should regard bone as a sign of power and strength which can be passed on to produce superior carcass progeny." &#42


&#8226 Suffer less at weaning.

&#8226 Fewer foot problems.

&#8226 Ideal for commercial buyer.

Costly lessons learned from AI

Artificial insemination has been used for many years in the Fieldhead flock, but some costly lessons have been learned. After consistently achieving 90% conception rate with frozen semen, the 2001 performance was disappointing at below 50%, says Adrian Leach (right). "Wed previously fed concentrates for about six weeks before starting the AI programme. Last year we relied on some good silage aftermaths, but ewe nutrition clearly wasnt good enough."

In more successful years he started to feed 0.23kg of 18% crude protein concentrate a ewe in early July increasing to 0.4kg by mid-July and up to the AI date in early August. That has been the policy again this year, although fresh semen has been used.

"We stop feeding concentrates after ewes have been AId and keep the flock as quiet as possible and on good grass.

"Keeping them as calm as possible after AI is as important as getting the nutrition right beforehand," says Mr Leach.

See more