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Profitability key for top quality breeding stock

February 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Profiles

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Daniel Rowbottom takes a commercial approach to breeding award-winning pedigree livestock on the Heydour Estate, Lincolnshire.

A commercial approach to pedigree breeding has seen livestock manager Daniel Rowbottom build an award-winning flock of Lleyn sheep for T P Radford on the Heydour Estate, near Grantham, Lincolnshire.

The estate encompasses some 1200 acres of farmland, split between about 900 acres of contracted out arable land and 300 acres of grassland which is farmed in hand. As well as the agricultural enterprises it includes a successful shoot and various property lets.

The Kelby flock of pedigree Lleyn sheep consists of 500 MV Accredited ewes. Some 200 are purebred for replacements and for commercial and pedigree buyers. A small number of tups are produced for pedigree breeding – from both home and society sales.

The remaining third of the flock is crossed to a Charollais ram to produce fat lambs. Trying to hit the earlier market, lambing takes place inside from the middle of February to the end of March, with the pedigree stock lambing first followed by the crossed ewes.

“Our goal is to produce top quality breeding stock,” says Mr Rowbottom. “The fat lamb job is our crust and we never lose sight of the commercial side because is very important to us but producing top breeding females is our top end profit.”

Originally from Yorkshire, Mr Rowbottom graduated from Bishop Burton college before coming to the Heydour Estate in 2010. In addition to the Lleyn sheep, he is responsible for the estate’s award-winning herd of Highland Cattle.

Lambs are marketed through Newark livestock market. Breeding females and males flock are sold at the Lleyn Sheep Society sales at Ross on Wye, where Mr Rowbottom took first price for a pen of five ewe lambs and achieved top price. Progeny are also sold at Bakewell and Skipton.

“We aim for the top end of the market. It’s where we want to be. We set our sights high and go to a fair number of shows throughout the summer months, including the Newark & Nottinghamshire, our local show at Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire, Great Yorkshire and Bakewell.”

Although the Lleyn is a prolific breed, Mr Rowbottom focuses on quality rather than quantity. “I would rather have two good lambs than three mediocre lambs. Quantity at all costs is certainly not the be all and end all.”

Growing grass at the back end of the year can be challenging in this part of the world, so the aim is to get any fat lambs away earlier to allow swards to recover and ensure ewes have enough to eat during the autumn. “It is all a balancing act,” says Mr Rowbottom.

Tupping takes place at the end of September, with ewes having received a bolus a month before to ensure they are in good order and cycling properly. “We also use teasers to reduce the number of repeats. They go in for one cycle before the tups and are key to our flock management here. “

Tupping starts with a batchs of 40 pedigree ewes for two cycles with a single tup. “If they are not in lamb by the second cycle, they are no good to me. We are after a tight lambing period – not lambing that goes on for weeks and weeks.”

After the first cycle, the tups go in with the commercial flock. Once all ewes have been tupped, the ewes go on to stubble turnips, where they stay until a month before lambing. At that point, ewes then have their Heptavac vaccination and are brought inside.

“That’s when my concentrate feeding starts, although we keep it to a minimum. Lleyns can thrive on very little feed – it’s a breed characteristics. If you feed them too much you can end up with lambing problems.”

Lambing starts mid-February. Lambs go into pens for 24 hours, then hardening pens for about a week before being turned out to grass and wormed. Commercial lambs are creep fed so they can be marketed from the end of May or beginning of June. Ewes are clipped in June using contractors and treated for fly strike in July.

“Last year for the first time, we weighed the pedigree lambs at eight weeks and 20 weeks to measure the growth rates so we could see which tups were most efficient. The goal is to keep replacements that produce quick finishing lambs.”

“It is very important from a commercial point of view but when we are producing pedigree, we always look at the breed characteristics too – including the black nose, no brown in the legs and short ears. We also like a tight fleece, which are easier to sell at market.”

About 100 ewe lambs are kept each year as replacements. “We will sell some shearlings the following year both privately and in the sales. They will go away on grass keep and come back about Christmas time and are fed silage until spring. It helps give our land a break.”

In addition to the sheep, the estate has 20 pedigree Highland cows plus followers, bred using two stock bulls to produce breeding heifers and bulls. Numbers are increasing, with anything that doesn’t make the pedigree standard sold for pure Highland beef.

“This is still in the early days. Highland cattle take a long time to mature and needs to be hung for between three and four weeks. But once it does mature it is very good beef. “At the moment we use beef through the shoot but we are looking to extend our marketing strategy.”

Cattle are out-wintered on silage and calve outside in January. “We have hard-standing in the field. When the spring comes they are moved on to different pasture where they stay all summer. The calves are then creep fed until weaning in the autumn.”

Blood testing to maintain elite herd status also takes place in the autumn. Once the calves are weaned, the cows are moved to winter pasture, depending on grass growth. Any bulls which have potential are halter trained and anything that doesn’t make the grade are dehorned and castrated.

“All heifers are halter-trained at weaning. We will sell heifers and bulls privately but we also sell at the Highland Cattle Society sales every April. It is a new venture and we are building up the herd, so numbers will increase. But we also sell privately from home.”

Marketing the beef could have knock-on benefits for the lamb enterprise, believes Mr Rowbottom. “Having a bigger customer base for more beef could enable us to market the lamb privately too, which will help us make more money out of the commercial sheep side.”

Mr Rowbottom is a member of the Lleyn Sheep Society Council. An estate open day is held on 23 August. For details, visit www.tpradford.co.uk or call Daniel on 07812 858893.

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