Peebles monitor farmers, Ed and Kate Rowell, are “absolutely thrilled” that the results from the scanning of their hill flock are the best they have ever been.
The couple farm the 1,800 acre (729 ha) Hundleshope Farm, located a few miles south of Peebles. Hundleshope is one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland.
Kate and Ed told the community group at their recent meeting that their 364 (282 bred pure and 82 to Bluefaced Leicester), Scottish Blackface ewes and gimmers, had scanned 113%. “We’ve never scanned over 100% in the hill ewes before!” exclaimed Kate Rowell.
The majority of the land at Hundleshope is classified as hill. A total of 1,450 acres of interlocking heather clad hills peak at 2,200 feet, forming a southern backdrop to the town of Peebles. These hills are the domain of the Rowell’s Scottish Blackface flock.
There is also a lowland flock of approximately 450, mainly home-bred Scotch mules, which are mated with terminal sires. These scanned 167%, well up on the previous year.
Traditionally the Rowells had mated retained Blackface gimmers with Bluefaced Leicesters to breed lowland flock replacements. At the August 2013 monitor farm meeting, the group had suggested holding back some of the soundest four crop ewes which would normally be culled and to instead put those to the Bluefaced Leicester and breed the incoming Blackface gimmers pure. The theory being that breeding replacements from proven ewes should produce better ewes in the long term.
Hill flock scans of recent years had been disappointing, the worst being the 2010 lambing with a scanning of 67%, with 114 barren. Since then, figures have climbed steadily with the flock scanning 94% last year with 60 barren. “There were only half as many barrens this year, which have since been culled,” commented Ed Rowell.
In some previous years, the flock has not produced enough ewe lambs for the required number of replacements.
In 2011 the Rowells had bought in 80 ewe lambs. Unfamiliar with the hill, these sheep had hung about at the bottom, despite attempts to drive them up into the hills.
“This year, all being well, we should have many more ewe lambs to choose from,” said Mrs Rowell. “We need about 90 ewe lamb replacements, so with luck, we’ll be able to be more selective when choosing the retained females. We will target easily born, well grown ewe lambs, in the hope that they will have inherited easy lambing and good mothering traits from their dams.”
Since the 2013 lambing the Rowells have made a number of changes to their hill flock management.
“In August we bought three performance recorded blackface shearlings from the same breeder,” explained Mrs Rowell. “They were selected on their estimated breeding values (EBVs) which are good for the traits we need, for example, litter size, maternal ability, eight week weight and mature size.
“The hill flock are in lamb to these three tups and the scanning suggests the litter size EBV is right. With regard to maternal ability, it will be two years before their daughters are lambing, so we’ll have to wait and see.”
Before 2012, the Hundleshope hill flock had never been treated for fluke. “Knowing we had a liver fluke problem in the lowland flock, we decided that there was a chance fluke may have been suppressing fertility in the hill flock so we dosed them with Triclabendazole at the end of 2012,” explained Mrs Rowell.
“Last year they were dosed at lambing and again in October and December, but as we suspect we have bought in Triclabendazole resistance into the lowland flock so we used different flukicides in 2013.”
At an earlier meeting the community group had recommended delaying shearing until mid-August and to then combine shearing with an earlier weaning. This was to help give the ewes the opportunity to regain some condition pre-tupping before the grass quality dropped. This recommendation was followed with the hill lambs being weaned six weeks earlier than usual.
The ewes are tupped on in-bye ground, with, in recent years, high energy blocks available at tupping.
“Instead of the blocks, last year we fed them ewe rolls which include trace elements, particularly Selenium,” explained Ed Rowell. “With the blocks we felt that just some of the ewes hung around the blocks and we weren’t sure all the ewes benefitted. But by feeding out rolls with a snacker, we could see that all the ewes were feeding.”
Like most Scottish livestock farmers the Rowells are hoping that the summer weather of 2014 is as kind as 2013 which was followed by a comparatively mild autumn.
“Our hill ewes looked really good at tupping time,” commented Mrs Rowell. “We said that if these didn’t go in lamb, we just didn’t know what else we could do!”
The next Peebles monitor farm will be in the second half of May and will focus on surface re-seeding of permanent grassland.
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For general information on monitor farms, plus detailed reports of meetings, please visit: www.qmscotland.co.uk/monitor-farms