Four teats good – for profit
By John Burns
PHILLIP Caunters ambition to develop a prolific four-teated breed of sheep has had a beneficial impact on his income.
Over the past 20 years while building up a flock of four-teated ewes he found that they lacked prolificacy, something other breeders working with four-teated sheep have also found.
His search for a ram to improve prolificacy and maintain if not improve conformation led him in 1984 to the Lleyn breed, he told a south west Lleyn Club breed promotion day at his Stonehill Farm, Harbertonford, in south Devon.
"Once the cross-breds lambed you could see the difference. The Lleyn ram had tightened up the type of sheep, and the wool was easy to shear. They were good mothers, the lambs were slightly smaller but up on their feet and sucking quickly so that they soon made up the difference in weight. That proved the cross-bred ewes were milking better."
He was so impressed by the Lleyn crosses that in 1986 he bought some Lleyn ewes and today has a flock of 130 ewes bred pure. The ewes typically weigh 65-70kg and turn out 190% lambing without too many triplets. Last year 9% of ewes had triplets, this year it was 16%.
Mr Caunter has found a four-teated ewe in his Lleyns and now when buying rams he looks for ones with four teats.
Lleyn ewe lambs and rams find a ready market and the pure-bred wethers are ideal for the supermarket or export carcass trade, weighing 17-20kg, typically grading R or U on conformation and not getting overfat if the management is correct, he says.
They will lamb as early as January, though he lambs in February/March.
Although the Lleyn is reputed to have good, hard feet, Mr Caunter has not noticed much difference from his other ewes, probably because the farm does not get much foot trouble.
His wife Christine has a flock of 60 Zwartbles ewes, which are also proving to be good earners due to the strong demand for breeding stock, and ready sales of meat from the wethers direct to customers. Cured skins also fly out at £50 a time, she says.
Speaking at the open day, Lleyn society chairman, John Burrows, extolled the virtues of the breed, which he has kept for more than 20 years. He runs a flock of more than 500 pure Lleyns at his farm near Stratford-on-Avon, Warks, mostly bred pure, with just one Charollais ram to cross on the few ewes he rejects for pure breeding.
He recommends that anyone buying a few Lleyns to try should keep them separate from other bigger ewes to allow them to eat enough to perform well as they are not aggressive enough to compete alongside big ewes such as Mules. This should also prove that they eat less.
The Lleyn Society operates a strict inspection system for rams before they are registered, and for all breeding sheep entered for society sales. They look for breed points, general conformation, good mouth and feet and good bone-to meat ratio, he explained. Lleyns are good, all round, easy-care sheep with hard feet, which can be kept commercially as pure-bred closed flocks apart from occasional purchases of rams, he added.
Lleyn promotion consultant Debbie Hutchinson, who has a flock on the family farm near Scarborough, North Yorks, said ewes and rams could be bought privately or at society sales.
Commercial ewe lambs will make about £45 and pedigrees about £55, commercial shearling ewes £60 and pedigrees £80-£90, and rams £250 to £3000, she suggested. Some flocks have been recorded for many years under what is now the Signet Sheepbreeder scheme, so that fully-recorded breeding stock can be found if required, she added. *
The Lleyn performs well at Stonehill Farm as a cross and pure bred; Philip Caunter is now hoping to develop more four-teated ewes.
• Good mothers.
• Prolific breeders.
• Keen lambs.