Meeting the market
Choosing the right sheep
breed to meet market
specifications was the
theme of two Welsh open
days. Robert Davies
SELECTING appropriate breeds and better management are the keys to meeting market demands, as visitors at National Sheep Association farm walks held on two very different LFA units heard last week.
At Carnau, Llandewi Brefi – a severely disadvantaged farm in the heart of the Cambrian Mountains – conditions dictate that Huw and Eleri Davies run hardy hill ewes. But 60ha (150ac) of land improvement, investment in new buildings and the introduction of routine winter feeding, have allowed selection to make the 517ha (1277 acre) units 1280 Welsh Mountain ewes bigger.
The traditional system of pure breeding and marketing some lambs as stores has also changed. Visitors heard that around 200 four-year-olds could now be crossed. About 80 stand to an Oxford Down and 40 to a Charollais tup. The crossbred lambs can be taken up to 20kg deadweight without risking overfatness. Surplus Welsh Mountain lambs are marketed at 13 to 17kg.
Another 80 ewes are put to Bluefaced Leicester rams to breed Welsh Mules for sale. The wethers produced, like all lambs finished, are sold on the hook to a local export abattoir.
"The sheds and better winter feeding are the key," said Mr Davies. "Ewes are housed from the beginning of January until lambing in April. They get big bale haylage, hay, oats and molassed sugarbeet pellets. An 18% concentrate is introduced one month before lambing."
Earlier lamb finishing is possible because ewes with single Welsh lambs are returned to the high hill from mid-May, allowing ewes rearing twins and cross-bred lambs to graze improved pastures.
"We try to manage things as tightly as possible and produce what the market wants, but without support payments it would be impossible to make a decent living even on this area of land."
Margaret and John Dalton, of Gelligarneddau, Llangybi shared this view. More than 200 people attended their open day; many attracted by FARMERS WEEKLY Management Matters reports.
The visitors were told that breeding policy was governed by a desire to maximise market returns. To do this the partners aimed to sell high-quality prime lambs through a premium-paying outlet, in their case Farm, Assured Welsh Livestocks contract with the Waitrose chain.
Lambs must weigh between 15-20kg to classify better R or better for conformation and 3L for fat cover. Many breeds had been tried to find the types of ewe and terminal sire to do this consistently on land rising to 240m (800ft).
"We have settled for Rouge x Scottish Blackface ewes which we buy from Scotland," said Mrs Dalton. "Good quality Texel and Beltex rams provide the conformation demanded by Waitrose."
They were also going for quality and niche marketing with the 90 sucklers. Aberdeen-Angus bulls were serving some cows. The females produced would be retained asherd replacements.
Margaret and John Dalton with ideal Rouge x Scottish Blackface ewes and their Texel cross lambs.
• Produce what market demands.
• Change breeding.
• Tight management.