Hill flock productivity has significantly improved at Hundleshope Farm since Ed and Kate Rowell hosted their first monitor farm meeting back in 2012.
Hundleshope, a 1,797acre unit, located just south of Peebles, is one of the network of Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) monitor farms throughout Scotland. The majority of the farm (approx 1,450 acres) is heather hill, peaking at 2,200 ft.
A flock of 350 Scottish Blackfaces range over the hill ground, with 430 home-bred Scotch Mules and Texel cross Mule ewes for prime lamb production, plus 170 hoggs, kept on the lower ground.
Improving productivity of the Blackface flock was one of the first projects the Rowells asked the monitor farm community group to help them with.
“The number of lambs being born was so low that we were keeping every ewe lamb, and even then, we still had to buy in additional ewe lambs just to maintain numbers,” recalled Mrs Rowell.
In 2010 the hill ewes had scanned at 67 per cent. By 2013 this had improved to 94 per cent. The 2014 scanning of 113 per cent, yielding 400 lambs at marking, including 150 ewe lambs, was “the best we can recall,” according to Mrs Rowell, whose father John Brown was the previous tenant.
The Rowells had acted upon most of the community group recommendations, which included weaning lambs earlier, dosing for liver fluke, feeding high energy rolls to ewes at tupping time and using EID to identify and cull empty ewes.
An additional recommendation, which had met with a “mixed” reaction from the Rowells, had been to purchase Performance Recorded tups with good Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for maternal traits.
“I was sceptical,” confessed Mr Rowell, “even though we’d previously selected terminal sire tups on their EBVs for the cross-bred ewes.”
Mrs Rowell was more enthusiastic and in August 2013, three Scottish Blackface shearlings from the same breeder, all born in April 2012 and all with well above breed average EBVs for maternal traits, arrived at Hundleshope.
“I would never have bought them had I been selecting by eye,” said Mr Rowell. “But even though it’s too soon to tell whether or not their daughters have the maternal traits to match their EBVs, already the weaning weights of their progeny match the EBVs, which is encouraging.”
Mrs Rowell added: “Thanks to Electronically Identifying the Blackface flock, we’ll be able to record which lambs are from which ewes and in time build up a history for each ewe lamb considered as a replacement.
“But for now, we’re enjoying the luxury of having more ewe lambs than we need, to select replacements from.
“By being able to be selective with our ewe lamb replacements, along with culling empty ewes, we feel that we’re taking forward steps to improving the productivity and lifting the quality of the hill flock, which will be ongoing with each year’s intake.”
In 2016 the first female crop of the Performance Recorded Blackface tups will lamb to Bluefaced Leicester X Texel tups.