In 2008, I took the decision to re-establish the commercial sheep flock at Lowerye. Noting how many of my Charollais ram customers had changed to outdoor lambing in April, and the fact that every single one of them stated that they wouldn't want to return to labour intensive indoor lambing, I started to research outdoor lambing flocks and systems.
I purchased a group of 260 ewe lambs from Paul Heritage of Oxhill, who had previously bought my commercial flock of Texel x Cambridge ewes in 2004, in order to gain some of those highly selected genetics back again. The ewe lambs that I bought comprised of 200 Hartline crosses and 60 Highlander cross Hartline X, in order to give that NZ composite a thorough appraisal. The following Spring, I lambed 200 tegs outdoors, to Charollais rams and was convinced from that point, that my ram customers had been right. The Charollais lambs from that lambing grew like mushrooms and all were finished off grass only by October. The Hartline ewes were excellent mothers, but the Highlanders out of them were better still, so the decision was made to breed replacements from Highlander rams.
By 2010, I was looking in earnest for a new farm, but finding very few that I considered worth tendering for. For all those that I did tender, I was shortlisted, but fell down because of someone being willing to tender an unsustainable (in my view) rent, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I was successful. The seed was set, and preparations for a move began with plans to increase ewe numbers. Knowing that we had secured the farm at Montgomery, all ewes were covered by Highlander rams in Autumn 2010 and 2011, in order to multiply up as quickly as possible. To that end, we lambed 400 ewes and tegs in Spring 2012, and have another 250 ewe lambs on the ground to enter the flock in 2013.
Since taking over the management of the flock, I have always run a very tight ship. Routine foot trimming was abandoned nearly 20 years ago, with ruthless culling and selection having taken place for lameness, mastitis, dagginess, getting cast, big teats/udder confirmation, poor doing...... generally anything that requires intervention when they should be able to get on with it. It was for this reason, that I was particularly keen to purchase that initial breeding stock from my previous commercial flock. In recent years, I have selected even more rigorously against negative production traits. As a result, I don't crutch sheep, or foot trim more than a handful a year (which are normally then marked for culling) and I only erected 10 lambing pens this year, which I only filled once. Lambing has become more of a supervisory job, than hands on intervention, whilst losses have remained at similar levels.
Two of the Highlander stock rams.
Our commercial flock now consists of mainly Highlander crosses, with 150 of the original Hartlines still here producing more Highlander X lambs. They are of the same high health status as the pedigree flock, with both flocks mv accredited. All of the Highlander rams used have been MyoMAX Gold and type 1 or 2 for scrapie resistance, ensuring those genes are integrated throughout the flock. Ewes are out-wintered on stubble turnips and no concentrates are fed either before or after lambing, which takes place on grass in April. Lambs are not creep fed and are finished primarily off grass, with the 'tailenders' finished off root crops or stored until the Spring price lift. The Highlander rams have been selected to a type, which is now evident through the flock, with moderate shape, tight skins and dark feet being primary selection points. Any ewe lamb that requires more than very minor assistance at birth, is not retained for breeding. Similarly, if they get foot problems or require dagging, they are sent off with the fat lambs.
Highlander X teg with twin (3/4 Highlander) lambs at foot.
3yr old Highlander ewe with (3/4 Highlander) lambs at foot.
Highlander X ewe lambs ready to tup.
We use the Highlander stock rams at a ratio of 1:100 and very few ewes repeat to the second cycle. Experience has shown that, of the ewe lambs tupped (everything over 38kg on Nov 1st), 90% will generally get in lamb within 34 days. We have achieved that sort of conception rate with the same 1:100 ewe/ram ratio and also, in Nov 2011, with 2 April born grass fed ram lambs turned into 150 ewe lambs.