Getting lambs to weight quicker a big priority on Ayrshire farm

Cassington is in a very scenic area of South Ayrshire, in the heart of Burns Country, we are a modest 600 feet above sea level but looking over the Clyde Bay are very exposed, resulting in us being in the top 10 windiest postcodes in Scotland. We farm 3 neighbouring holdings, all previous dairy farms, totalling near 1000 acres. Today it is solely a sheep farm with 800 Cheviot Ewes and 100 Scottish Blackface ewes that are tupped with Bluefaced Leicester Rams to produce Mule ewe lambs that are kept to be sold as yearling gimmers, mostly privately to regular customers. We retain some of the mule gimmers and have a flock of 450 Mule ewes that are tupped with Hampshire Down rams, these lambs are all finished on the farm and sold deadweight to Vivers Scotlamb, Annan through Farm Stock Scotland. Along with these commercial ewes, we have a small flock of 30 pure Hill type North Country Cheviot ewes, 40 Traditional type Bluefaced Leicester ewes, 10 Crossing type Bluefaced Leicester’s and finally our 25 Hampshire ewes, on the farm we also have 500 Mule Hoggs that are to be sold as yearlings, 250 pure Cheviot hoggs mostly bought in directly from a regular source for flock replacements and 50 Scottish Blackface hoggs also bought in for stock. It is very much a family farm, myself and my son James who is in sixth year at school and is going to agricultural college the backend. No full time staff, mostly family with a bit of outside help, with contractors brought in to do a lot of the tractor work.

The story of Hampshire Downs at Cassington started nearly 10 years ago. We were struggling to get our prime lambs up to full weight for our deadweight contract, and weight had become the critical element, over time the premium for better grades had diminished and number of Kilos had become the priority. Another driver for change was that our business was expanding, and we were looking for a terminal sire that produced quicker finishing lambs, so we were taking less into the winter still to finish. A neighbour had bought some ewes in lamb to a Hampshire, they did very well with him, By chance an old tup was sold at my local ram sale at Ayr, a 4 shear, I bought him just as an experiment for 80 pounds. He did well and the next year travelled to the Scottish sale at Stirling and bought 3 rams to use on our Mules and in 2016 James bought his first two pedigree females.

The Hampshire’s are on the farm for one reason only, to produce rams that will produce the most profitable prime lambs we can on our farm, its as simple as that. When purchasing a stock ram we have two main criteria. Firstly the ram must be correct, particularly legs and mobility,  secondly and probably most importantly is performance figures. Recording the flock is vital to get the result we need to achieve, the EBVs allow us to breed and select the traits suited to our farm and our environment, we are challenged at particular times of year, and have to make sure we don’t use genetics that are too lean, the ability  to become fat enough to market can be important for us, while the same genetics used in the better grassland in the south may produce lambs that fatten too early, not a big fan of indexes, they over simplify performance figures and can lead to flocks using unsuitable traits that the overall index hides.

I have been involved in a few breeds that have Performance Recorded, but in all I have experienced, recording splits the breed, those that record are completely focused on figures, and neglect physical attributes and traits, while the rest completely disassociate themselves from recorded stock. The Hampshire breed isn’t like this, the most sought after stock have the best physical traits, and the best figures.

The pedigree Hampshire flock is very easily managed, the ewes lamb themselves without assistance, the lambs get up and suck and move on very quickly. They are not a sheep suited to being in the shed, they do far better outside. These traits come through when used commercially, lambs get up and go, which is important to us as we have limited labour on the farm and we need the sheep to do as much of the work themselves as possible.

I’d say it is only now we have a flock of Hampshires with a stamp about them, we are at a number we are happy with. We intend now to keep drawing the bottom end out the flock, moving them into the commercial flock, which will speed up our genetic progress. We are now in the position that we will be selling rams, up until now we have used most in our commercial flock. We are aiming to sell well figured commercial rams, that will go on and do a good job, but our priority is to breed the best rams we can to produce the most profitable prime lambs on our farm.

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