Hundleshope farmers, Ed and Kate Rowell, who are taking part in Quality Meat Scotland’s (QMS) programme to help farmers share, adopt and develop new ideas with support from a local group of farmers and expert advisors, are “absolutely thrilled” with the 113 per cent among their 364 Blackface ewes and gimmers.
We’ve never scanned over 100 per cent in the hill ewes before, “ said Kate.
The worst result was in 2010 when 167 sheep were barren and the scanning total was 67 per cent: last year the figures were 94 per cent, with 60 barren.
The flock run about 1,450 acres of the 1,800 acre farm, while the lowland flock of 450 mainly Scotch mules, were also up with a scanning result of 167 percent.
The Rowells are putting the good results among the hill sheep down to several changes they’ve made in the last year - buying in three performance Blackface shearling tups; focused liver fluke treatment; combining a delayed clipping with early weaning to allow ewes more time to catch the last of the good grass and build up condition pre-tupping, and replacing high energy blocks with feeding out ewe rolls at tupping time.
Kate said: “The tups 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. Before 2012, the Hundleshope hill flock had never been treated for fluke.
Kate said: “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. 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.”
And Ed explained the change of supplementation: “Instead of the blocks, last year we fed them ewe rolls which include trace elements, particularly selenium. 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.”
Kate said: “Our hill ewes looked really good at tupping time. We said that if these didn’t go in lamb, we just didn’t know what else we could do!”
Some years the Rowells have struggled to breed enough ewe lambs for replacements.
“This year, all being well, we should have many more ewe lambs to choose from,” said Kate. “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.”