Producing top quality commercial lambs with the vigour and growth rates to bolster productivity and profit margins is every sheep farmer’s goal and it’s one which Chris Blyth, manager of Gascoigne Farms, Kilbucho, near Biggar, successfully achieves on a regular basis.
Initially the farm which was purchased by Mr Gascoigne in 2002, was home to 400 ewes of which some were crossed to Suffolk rams, but the change in the choice of terminal sire used to Hampshire Down, has given the business a new lease of life, with increased survival rates at lambing and an improved crop of lambs ensuring a good market trade each year.
“Our Suffolk lambs were always harder work when born, as they were slower to get up and sook” said Chris. “Instead we looked to the Hampshire Down, which we have found produces much livelier lambs.”
Initially, two Hampshires were purchased at the Kelso ram sales, after reading an article about the benefits of the breed. These were bought from the Moybrick and Ballycreely flocks from Northern Ireland and while they both produced cracking, fasts growing, easy-keep lambs, the finished lambs sold through the live ring, failed to find favour, with most selling for less than their white-faced rivals. However, by selling dead weight through Farm Stock, Scotland, such penalties are avoided with the majority of lambs sold off grass to produce U grade carcases.
The Hampshire is also proving herself as a good big easy-care female breed at Kilbucho, requiring little if any feeding, and producing good big lambs which go on and thrive solely off grass. And, crossed to a Texel sire, the resultant white-faced progeny from the Hampshire Down female finish earlier and attract higher premiums than Texel crosses bred from Mule ewes.
To avoid buying in replacements and possible disease, Chris breeds most of his replacements but this year for the first time, he purchased 25 Lleyn as an experiment with half being crossed to a Hampshire and the remainder to a Texel sire. Chris also crossed some of his Hampshire Down crosses back to the Hampshire which he said to date, has produced particularly promising looking, fast growing, dense lambs.
Not surprisingly he will be concentrating even more on the breeding potential of his sheep in the years to come and in particular to that of the Hampshire Down both as a terminal sire and a breeding female. “In the early days it was difficult to find good Hampshire Down tups in Scotland, but there has been so much improvement in the breed in recent years, it is now so much easier to source good big square Hampshires with length, width and plenty meat throughout the gigots.”
The Hampshire Down may have lost favour over the years as trends change, but it appears the breed which is one of the UKs oldest natives could just be the answer to a future with reduced financial support….
Thanks to The Scottish Farmer for use of extracts and photographs first published July 16th