Peebles farmers hear ideas for improvement

Hundleshope farmers Ed and Kate Rowell who led the community group around the farm
Hundleshope farmers Ed and Kate Rowell who led the community group around the farm
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Anyone interested in seeing an electronic identification (EID) reading and weight- recording crate in action is invited to a Peebleshire monitor farm next Thursday (September 19).

Hundleshope farmers, Ed and Kate Rowell, run one of Quality Meat Scotland’s (QMS) monitor farms, which aim to bring local farmers and the agricultural industry together for meetings to focus on business improvements, more efficient production and better returns.

The Rowells’ hill flock is electronically identified and, at weaning day on Thursday, will go through the EID reading and weight recording crate.

“We want to identify the ewes which wean the heavier lambs, while retaining their condition,” explained Kate. “We’ll reweigh the ewes again at the end of November, pre-tupping.”

The weighing will be done by Martin Tompkins of Borders Software, based in Wales, who says the crate can weigh and record the individual weights of 500 EID sheep in two hours.

Improving the productivity of the hill flock was the main discussion topic at Hundleshope’s latest monitor farm meeting.

Of the farm’s 1,800 acres, almost 1,450 acres is classified as hill, and grazed by 350 Blackface ewes, tupped from late November, bred pure and generally achieving four crops of lambs.

For the in-bye flock of 450, Blackface gimmers are tupped by Bluefaced Leicesters to produce Scotch Mule replacements, which are crossed with terminal sires for prime lamb production.

Scanning figures for the hill flock over the last four years are improving – from 67 per cent in 2010 to 94 per cent in 2013 – but the end results are still “disappointing”, said the Rowells. For while there were 40 pairs of twins, there were also 60 empty ewes this year.

“Ideally, we would like to select replacements from ewes which have a trouble-free lambing and keep their condition, while rearing quality, weighty lambs. But in reality we keep every Blackie ewe lamb, and even then sometimes don’t have enough,” said Kate.

Usually the flock is gathered for clipping towards the end of July, weaning is in September (on Thursday, this year), tupping at end of November and scanning in February.

The monitor community group recommended delaying shearing (until around August 20) and combining it with weaning, then turning the ewes onto better grazing, to help them regain condition to improve conception rates, and putting feed blocks on the hill, to aid embryo survival after tupping. The group also suggested that instead of culling the four-crop ewes, put the sounder ones to the Bluefaced Leicester and tup the gimmers with Blackfaces. For further information visit www.qmscotland.co.uk or contact Jennifer Brown on 01835 823322.