THE LOWERYE FLOCK. Updated: 23/06/2012
The flock is started at Lower Rye Farm near Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds hills of the UK, where the farm carried a 300 strong Holstein Friesian dairy herd, 80 hectares of cereals, 330 x-bred sheep and the Lowerye flock of 220 British Charollais Sheep. In March 2012, having secured a long term tenancy on a 320ac mixed holding, I left the family partnership and we moved to Lymore Farm in Montgomery, Powys. In need of a little work, but with massive potential, we have thrown ourselves into improving the holding, with the aim of increasing sheep numbers and producing livestock as cheaply, efficiently and sustainably as possible. I believe the current buzz word is 'sustainable intensification'.
Lymore Farm was a 16th century deer park surrounding a rather splendid hunting lodge and two man made 4ac lakes. The house fell into disrepair around a hundred years ago and was demolished, but the parkland remains. My lambing paddocks today, consist of that sheltered parkland, dotted with mature/ancient trees. What could be better? Click here for some more information on the farm.
Neil Oughton with 2001 Charollais lambs.
The Lowerye flock is MV accredited and Scrapie Monitored. As such our stock, ram semen and embryos are eligible for export to most countries as those countries' import regulations allow. In addition to these schemes we have scrapie genotyped all current stock sires and all females within the flock. We are also early members of the National Scrapie Plan and, as from 2002, all rams for sale are genotyped for scrapie resistance and all are of type 1 or 2 (ARR/ARR or ARR/ARQ).
For further details on the flock's health status, please click on this link: HEALTH STATUS
The Lowerye flock has been performance recording with MLC/Signet since 1993 and has been an enthusiastic member of the Sire Reference Scheme since 1995. In that time we have seen enormous benefits in both our pedigree stock and in our commercial ewe flock. It is these benefits that convince us as to the usefulness of performance recording and we consider Signet records play an essential part of both our breeding decisions in the pedigree flock and in our buying decisions for the x-bred flock.
After all, you wouldn't buy a car without knowing what its performance capabilities were and you certainly wouldn't buy it just because it had been polished well!!!
For further details on performance recording, please click on this link: SIGNET RECORDING
The LOWERYE Flock - how it all began:
In 1989 we had noticed a premium of around £5 per head was being paid for continental sired lambs in our local market at Banbury, so we decided to try them for ourselves. That year we purchased two Charollais rams and two Rouge rams at Ross-on-Wye Multibreed ram sale. We put each pair of rams out with 300 mainly Suffolk X ewes for 17 days and then replaced them with our existing Suffolk ram stud. To our surprise, most of the ewes held to the continental rams - a testament to their activity. We waited with anticipation for our first lambing to these "new fangled" breeds and were not disappointed. Both breeds gave us a high lambing percentage and extraordinarily lively lambs, all being easily born, up and eager to suckle without assistance. The Charollais X lambs were a picture, with wrinkly tight skins and fantastic fleshing of the loin and hind quarters. They grew quickly and stayed clean at our high stocking rates, appearing to be less affected by worms and coccidiosis than our other lambs. The lambs were fit to be sold from 34 kg, or could be retained to hoggets at 50 kg without laying down excessive fat. They sold to a premium in the live auction market of £5 to £6 per head over average Suffolk X Mule lambs. We were convinced.
The following year, most of the Suffolk rams were disposed of, one Suffolk and one Rouge were retained for breeding replacement females, and more Charollais rams were purchased at Society Sales.
In our opinion the British Charollais is superior to all other terminal sire breeds in every lowland situation. Having seen the qualities of the breed in our own flock we quickly realised the potential of the Charollais to become the most popular terminal sire used over the UK flock and , although having no experience of pedigree sheep breeding but a long experience of pedigree dairy cattle, established a small flock of British Charollais ewes. After a couple of years we came to the conclusion that we either had to "get in in a big way or get out" and we have since expanded to our current flock size of 200 ewes ( the average UK Charollais flock numbers 30 ewes). This expansion has been through purchase of quality females from society sales and through retaining our best females each year. Quality of these replacements has been influenced through extensive use in the early years of quality proven rams through AI and through Embryo Transfer to multiply up the best female lines within the flock. Recently, Signet performance figures have been playing an increasing part in replacement selection.
A Sample of the 2001 lamb crop (4/2001).
Influential Stock Sires:
In the early nineties the rams used through AI were mostly proven as sires of Show winners and excellent conformation commercial rams. These left us with quality females, some of which remain in the flock today. Sires such as Manxman Nessie (BS 6007), Neils' Chancellor (AP 8001), Finstall Edmund (ZFM 0001), Cairnhill Captain (FX 9011), Inglis Lloyd (CN 5012) and Glenbrook Duke (NT 2030) all left their mark.
At the 1993 Premier Sale we purchased our first 'proper' stock ram when we began to record with the MLC. We purchased a ram lamb from the Neils' flock in Scotland, Neils' Manager (AP 3029) for 750 gns. He was the highest rated MLC lamb in the flock with a within flock index of 181 and was a grandson of Neils' Chancellor. His dam had previously bred a ram lamb sold for 1,000 gns in 1992 and has since bred the 2,750 gns Neils' Chief, senior stock sire in the Wolston flock. It is a measure of the rapid progress made by the Sire Reference Scheme that Manager's scheme index is a lowly 47, but he was good in his day!
In August 1994, we purchased what was the 3 year old ram Belbroughton Sir Roy (DJ 1002) at the dispersal of the Watcombe (AC) flock of Roland Harris for 1,000 gns. Roy was an incredibly long, stylish ram that had won the Three Counties Show as a lamb. We had been impressed by the quality of his shearling daughters in that sale and he has thrown many big, long sheep in the Lowerye flock and for three other flocks that had limited use. Many of Roy's daughters remain in the flock and are still breeding well.
In 1994 we bred what was probably our best ram lamb to date, Lowerye Chancer (ZVY 4019). He was an incredibly stylish son of Neils' Chancellor being tall and well fleshed. Semen was retained and used extensively when he was sold at the 1995 Premier Sale where he was 1st prize MLC Recorded Shearling. He was purchased by the Tredethy flock (ZAQ) in Bodmin, Cornwall where he has been used extensively and with much success. Chancer has since been awarded 1st prize Senior Ram at the Royal Cornwall Show. He has a Scheme Index of 192 and has several daughters breeding well in the Lowerye and Tredethy flocks.
Since joining the Sire Reference Scheme in 1996, daughters of reference rams have been retained were they have been correct, had good performance indices and have been pleasing to the eye with good conformation. Influential reference rams have included Netherallan Envoy (KS 4149), Lowerye Duke (ZVY 7101), Eversure Bacchus (QN 4030), Tilton Maverick (YPP 7012) and Hyde Sirocco (SU 9066). A well fleshed son of Envoy, Lowerye Brutus (ZVY 6100) was also retained and has many daughters in the flock.
In 1998, semen was purchased (and the ram subsequently bought) from Foulrice Lionheart (DG 5137). He is the highest index son of Cairnhill Crusader (FX 3054) and is without doubt the best stock sire used in the Lowerye flock to date. He was Breed Champion at Burwarton Show in 1997 and his progeny are consistently correct and stylish with exceptional fleshing. They scan extremely well and the small number that lambed down as ewe lambs in this flock are very milky and make excellent mothers. Many daughters have been retained from this ram having been used over more than 250 ewes so far.
The System at Lowerye:
The system of ram production at Lowerye has evolved to the present one of producing around 100 strong, high indexed commercial shearling rams each year. No ram lambs are sold except for pedigree use and so a wide choice of well grown shearlings is available for sale on farm or at auction. Several years of rapid improvement within the Sire Reference Scheme has meant that Lowerye rams grow larger and quicker on less feed each year. All lambs are fed ad-lib creep at grass from weaning at 6-8 weeks until scanning at 21 weeks. This exaggerates the differences in the performance of the lambs and makes it much easier to identify superior animals. All lambs with faults or low growth rates are culled to the high priced Easter market where they usually top the trade and serve to advertise the flock and the breed. From scanning, all lambs not required for pedigree use or showing are grazed on grass until November when they are out-wintered on Stubble Turnips and spring barley straw. Rams are shorn in March and given access to shelter (which they usually decline) and moved back to grass in April. The shearlings remain at pasture until sale when they are sold from the field, very much in their 'working clothes'.
Lowerye Shearling Rams in May.
On-farm purchasers are given the choice of all the rams (ie: none are hidden away!) on a first come first served basis and a fixed price regardless of scheme index, quality or size. In this way buyers are encouraged to select their rams early in order to have the widest choice, the first usually being sold in Early July.
This system means that the rams are not 'pushed' prior to sale and they therefore do not melt when they are faced with only grass to eat and a flock of ewes to serve. For this reason almost all of our ram buyers come back again and again, many using Lowerye rams exclusively.