THUMBS UP FOR
Managing Texel cross ewes to ensure good conceptions rates and prolificacy, coupled with selling lambs in late season, ensures profitability for one Cheshire producer. Jeremy Hunt reports
PRODUCING high value three-quarter-bred Continental cross lambs, based on the Texel, and aiming for good late-season prices is the basis of the 800-ewe sheep enterprise run by Cheshire farmer Paul Slater.
"Texel cross ewes have a natural ability to look after themselves. Providing you select for the right type of ewe and steer clear of extreme types with big heads, high shanks and heavy shoulders, you can establish an easily managed and productive flock," says Mr Slater.
He is in partnership with his father Grahame and brother Nigel at Whiteley Hey Farm, Butley Town, Prestbury, where 160ha (400 acres) support the ewe flock and a flying herd of dairy cows.
His experience over the last 11 years disproves the belief that lambing percentage has to be sacrificed in the quest for high-value three-quarter-bred Texel lambs.
He consistently averages a figure of 180% lambs reared and in early June was achieving prices up to 157.5p/kg for late February/early April born lambs weighing 36.4kg.
Although a flock of 200-plus ewes are run as a purebred flock they are not registered. Mr Slater has developed a national reputation for his Texel rams and sells around 120 shearlings each year from home and at major tup sales.
An annual production sale of around 200 females – from shearlings to full-mouth – ensures the flock remains young. It is split into two groups for lambing – February and April – but no ewes are housed until the day lambing is due to start.
The hardiness and type of Texel-cross developed by the Slater family enables them to thrive on a regime that some other commercial ewe breeds would find hard to cope with.
Ewes are fed an 18% ewe mix plus hay from five weeks before lambing, building up to 0.7kg (1.5lbs) a head a day. Ewes and lambs are held inside for about two weeks and a creep feed of shredded beet pulp is on offer to the lambs from a fortnight old.
This year saw the first lambs drawn at 10-12 weeks old weighing 36-41kg and making 31p above the average price at Bakewell market in Derbyshire.
"We stock the early ewes tightly at 10 to the acre once the lambs have been sold and we have them in fit condition by the end of July ready for tupping in late August," says Mr Slater. Around 250 ewe lambs are kept each year and run with the Rouge de LOuest and Charollais.
The main April lambing flock is brought home from rented grazing just prior to lambing and housed at night. They build up to 0.7kg (1.5lbs) concentrate a day by lambing time. Ewes are foot-trimmed, fluked and wormed before being turned out on to clean grazing with their lambs.
"We dont feed any concentrate for the first two weeks after turning them out. It avoids mis-mothering and the ewes are in good condition and thrive on the fresh pasture."
Ewes are given a small quantity of sugar beet shreds during May, primarily for ease of flock inspection. For several years the Slaters have not had a set weaning date for the April lambers and have benefited from a big reduction in mastitis problems.
Ewes are taken away from the lambs as necessary and all lambs are weaned by late September. This flexible approach to weaning ensures greater control over the condition of individual ewes – the key to good conception rates – which then have a six-week period before tupping.
Lambs are kept in store condition until October when they are moved on to rented keep. Shredded beet pulp is introduced and lambs are sold between October and early January.
"We do not want our ewes pulled down too much in condition by late summer. We will turn them onto one-year seeds prior to tupping and we want to achieve a fit ewe on a rising plane of condition."
All the April-born lambs are sold through Bakewell and Chelford markets between November and early January at 40-53kg – over 75% of lambs sold were 47-53kg. This year the flock achieved exceptional prices at Christmas primestock shows. At Bakewell his 62 lambs included the champion pen which sold for £106. The overall average for Mr Slaters entries was £79.80.n
Texel-cross ewes have a natural ability to look after themselves – provided you select the right type of ewe – says producer Paul Slater.
The pure bred Texel flock at Whiteley Hey Farm is run in addition to the 600 Texel-cross ewes.
• Ewe condition managed.
• Good prolificacy.
• Lambs sold liveweight.