11th August 2011

Lamb vigour a priority on Kintyre Monitor Farm

A lamb’s natural ability to survive and thrive is a priority in the sheep enterprise of Kintyre Monitor Farmer, Duncan Macalister, who farms the 1,730 acres of Glenbarr Farms, a few miles north of Campbeltown.

At the recent well-attended meeting, the community group, which included farmers from the Isle of Arran, travelled around the farm by tractor and trailer, providing the opportunity to view ewes and lambs at grass.

All lambs from the total flock of 550 ewes, other than retained female replacements, are finished.

The ewes run in two separate groups – one group of approximately 300 which start lambing indoors on 21st March and a second of around 250 which start lambing outdoors a month later.

“Labour is one of the most expensive inputs on any farm,” said Duncan Macalister. “So I am keen to build ease of management along with fertility, natural hardiness, liveability and ‘thriveability’ into my sheep.”

This policy has resulted in a change of emphasis in the breeds at Glenbarr, along with the decision to only buy Performance Recorded tups.

“I have also bought Performance Recorded bulls for several years and believe that the figures give reliable information on crucial commercial traits which the eye cannot see,” said Mr Macalister

Six tups per annum are normally purchased, usually two Suffolks, two North Country Cheviots and two Lleyns. Lleyn cross replacements are retained for both flocks.

Suffolks and North Country Cheviots are used as terminal sires over the indoor lambing flock, currently a 50/50 mix of Scottish Greyfaces and Lleyn crosses, with increasing Lleyn influence.

Lleyn sires are used exclusively over the outdoor lambing flock. “Currently Scottish Blackfaces make up the majority of this flock,” said Mr Macalister. “But they’re being phased out and replaced with Lleyn crosses.”

The Lleyn breed was developed on the 30 mile long, 8 mile wide Lleyn peninsula of North Wales, where the climate is similar to the Kintyre peninsula – both are surrounded by Gulf Stream warmed seas and can experience wild, wet and windy weather.

“I’ve been impressed with the mothering ability of the Lleyn ewe,” commented Mr Macalister. “She also seems more protective. Foxes and ravens are a significant problem at lambing time and the Lleyn stands her ground. She also seems to be able to count – ensuring that if she has twins she takes both lambs with her, instead of leaving one behind, vulnerable to attack.”

For the outdoor lambers, Mr Macalister keeps disturbance of the lambing ewes to a minimum. “I go round them quietly once a day, usually about 10.00 a.m., driving slowly and carefully, checking known lambing areas.

“The ewes have a large area to lamb over, with lots of shelter – rushes, undulation of the land, plus walls. They pick their spot to lamb so I try not to disturb them, particularly during a storm, which would risk driving them from their chosen shelter.

“Obviously if a ewe is in trouble I will lamb her but not go back. This year I helped just three ewes.”

Once the outdoor-lambing flock is fully converted to Lleyns, Mr Macalister hopes that they will return a lambing percentage of 150%.

For 2011, the “true” percentage at marking, ewes to the tup, was 124.5%. Between tupping and start of lambing, ewe numbers were reduced by 27, mainly due to scanning results. An additional two were lost between start of lambing and marking.

At marking, there were 222 ewes with 310 lambs.

“For the indoor lambing, I rely heavily on family help,” said Mr Macalister, “but the children will soon start flying the nest so this flock needs to become less reliant on human assistance.

“For terminal sires I used to work with just Suffolks, but changed to North Country Cheviots. However the availability of a more modern type of Suffolk which is easier lambed, with the lambs quickly up and sucking, has recently encouraged me back to Suffolks.

“The breed’s ability to finish quickly is a must have. Our first lambs are away in the second week of August, off milk and grass alone.

“I’ve found a source of Performance Recorded Suffolks which are bred from New Zealand genetics, where emphasis is on un-assisted lambing and the lamb’s eagerness to get up, suck and survive. I’ve bought from this flock for the last four years.

The “true” lambing percentage of the Glenbarr indoor lambing flock is 162%.

Buying only from Performance Recorded flocks, Mr Macalister has two figure selection criteria – he always aims to buy a twin and looks for tups with good figures for quick growth.

“I don’t however just buy on figures. The tups must have good length and shape and of course, be right on their feet and legs.

“The only drawback is that the Performance Recorded tups are often more expensive than the normal range of tups for commercial use. However, with lamb prices as they are, it doesn’t take many extra live lambs to cover the difference.”

The next Kintyre Monitor Meeting will be in the final week of September, where the community group will be invited to suggest how to cost effectively re-vamp the current steading at Barr Mains.

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