Held at Tewin Bury Hotel Farm, where Harry Elsden (Hertford Flock) was host for the weekend, the 2nd National Training Weekend was an inspiring weekend packed with inter-active discussion and presentations from some of the most informed and knowledgeable members of our association. In welcoming everyone, Harry gave an insight into his work at the hotel and how the Hampshire Down plays a role in the grazing of the hotel paddocks whilst producing meat for the menu. Indeed Harry’s Hertford lamb was on the menu twice, and enthusiastically enjoyed by all.
Friday evening kicked off with an evening spent in the hotel with presentation from HDSBA Secretary Janet Hill running through and demonstrating how to use the Grassroots online registration system and keeping everyone informed of rules, deadlines and documentation to keep your Hampshire Down records in order. It was an informative evening with everyone getting involved with laptops and ipads fired up.
On Saturday morning a jam-packed programme kicked off with HDSBA President Roy McFarlane welcoming all and setting the scene, outlining the importance of how we present our breed to the commercial world and the importance of raising our stockmanship levels to be serious contenders in the market for terminal sire breeds.
Jim Birkwood (Thorbeck) began the programme with an in-depth presentation on ram breeding and selection, starting with identifying your target market (commercial, fat, breeding) and moving on to the importance of correct conformation, ease of birth, growth rates, watching and weighing your lambs and trying to identify that special one who catches your eye every time. “To be a good ram breeder” he said, “you have to be quite harsh” you are not only setting out to improve your flock but you are improving the whole Hampshire Down breed. “For an animal to be kept and used as pedigree, everything has to be perfect, I cull hard, being prepared to perhaps only keep 5 out of 30 ram lambs for pedigree sales, if that is was is needed”. Jim then expanded on the extra things you can do and use to go above and beyond, believing that the use of CT scanning opened his eyes and improved his flock, gaining the benefit of 99.9% accurate data upon which to base decisions. When producing rams for the commercial market, then again, rams must be correct and reared in a similar way to that which will be expected of them when they start work on a commercial farm. Commercial rams do not need the finer detail outlined in the breed standard, but they still must be correct in conformation and skin and be fit for purpose.
Leading on nicely from Jim’s discussion, Judith Galbraith (Graylen Flock) picked up the importance of ‘fit for purpose’ rams and gave a talk and demonstration on how to do a ‘Ram MOT’. A vital part of your annual health plan is to fully check, in plenty of time, that your stock rams are fit and fertile for their weeks of work. 10 weeks ahead of putting your rams out, they should be checked for feet, teeth, condition and testicles. Fertility is obviously vital and Judith gave an interesting talk, discussing issues that might affect fertility and sperm production, most significantly changes in temperature and the role over-fatness plays in throwing the optimum temperature out of balance and therefore suppressing sperm production.
Judith, our ‘resident vet’ continued after lunch with veterinary lectures on scouring and most particularly coccidiosis and nematodirus. And throughout the weekend, the demand on her expertise and knowledge was high and impromptu discussions surfaced spontaneously on all things health and vet including a very interesting presentation on buying in stock and the importance of quarantine.
And then came another speaker with years of knowledge and experience. Jim Cresswell (Wattisfield Flock) spoke about establishing a dam line and ewe performance and how he monitors his ewes and what progeny they produce. He will give a ewe several seasons before making a decision to cull, and will try with a number of different rams to see what knits and works. His ewes are long and faithful workers, keeping many until they are 10 years old once he has identified the good breeders. It is not always the best looking ewes that produce the best lambs, it is performance that counts. When it comes to selling females, Jim emphasised the importance of only ever considering stepping up to this once you are established “take your time to build up what you want, and don’t rush to sell until you are prepared to sell some of your very best”.
The last hour of the day was spent in a very lively question and answer session with the day’s speakers forming a panel to answer questions raised anonymously through questions in a box giving everyone a chance to ask what they might have considered too basic or trivial, but in fact everyone in the audience had been wanting to ask the same thing too. It was fun and informative and an up-beat end to the day.
Taking advantage of a collective of breeders a stand-alone meeting was held in the evening as part of a consultation process to investigate the way forward for producing and selling more rams to the commercial market. As the ideas evolve, details will be circulated. Anyone who is interested and has not received the consultation document should contact the secretary.
Sunday morning kicked off with a ‘live to dead’ session with Janet Hill leading the demonstration on drawing lambs for slaughter, weighing and grading with the opportunity for everyone to get their hands on and begin to learn the feel for fatness. Two carcasses of two different fat classes were hanging giving the opportunity to transpose what was felt to what it looked like on the hook.
The weekend ended with Kevin and Alex McCarthy demonstrating how to prepare a lamb for ‘untrimmed’ classes, outlining what is and what is not allowed, and throughout the weekend ongoing tutoring of trimming techniques, including the new concept of a mini-trim, gave many of the younger members the opportunity of one-to-one teaching with Kevin the Master Dresser.
It is hard to imagine that very much more could have been crammed in to just one weekend, and all went away full of ideas and new knowledge.