By Wendy Owen
RESTRICTIONS which led to overstocking, as well as a delay in bringing the rams home from away-wintering were the main reasons why lambing came later this year on Julie Sedgewicks mixed farm at Bishop Auckland, Co Durham.
"We used to lamb all the sheep inside over a 10-week period starting with ewes at the beginning of March and finishing with gimmer lambs. But this year, 25% of the flock lambed from early April, with the remainder lambing from May 1 onwards."
During April, ewes lambed inside except for those bearing singles, but from early May, all ewes lambed outside.
"Lambing outside is healthier for sheep and provides more room inside for cattle. It also saves on straw and labour. We usually have someone working the nightshift, but we havent this year."
Before 2001, Mrs Sedgewick and her husband, Gordon, ran 550 North of England Mule sheep at 141ha (350-acre) Binchester Hall farm. They now have just 400 sheep and rather than restocking to former levels, they plan to increase their herd of 60 Limousin cross suckler cows.
The breeding policy has also changed slightly and Mrs Sedgewick says they are not the only sheep producers taking a fresh look at their flock. She reckons many producers in the region are now concentrating on quality, rather than quantity of lambs.
Partly because of disease risk, many are also reducing the amount of livestock movements on to their farms by breeding replacements at home.
"Traditionally we have bought in Mule gimmer lambs, some of which we would put to the Suffolk ram and sell in spring with lambs at foot.
"The others would be sold as shearlings in autumn.
"Now we plan to keep all Suffolk cross female lambs, putting them back to a Suffolk ram in the expectation of getting a better-frame on the finished animal. That will reduce the lambing percentage, but I hope it will be more profitable."
All the lambs are sold to supermarket buyers from November to February, with many finished on turnips.
Lambing outdoors is healthier for sheep and labour bills, believes Julie Sedgewick.
• Later lambing.
• More home-bred replacements.
• Higher value lambs.