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AHDB Beef and Lamb board member, Duncan Nelless already understands the value of selective breeding from his experience of performance recording his large Lleyn flock with Signet Breeding Services.

As one of RamCompares original six, Duncan will continue to recording lambs from his commercial Lleyn flock through his Organic enterprise.

Thistleyhaugh farm situated in Northumberland covers 1,400 acres across two different sites. The farms run from the river Coquet with views to the Cheviot Hills on the Scottish border. Thistleyhaugh farm has been in the family for over 100 years, now managed by Duncan Nelless and his brother Angus. They have doubled the area farmed and flock size over the past 17 years, moving from a traditional 850 ewe mule flock to replace them with a closed flock of pedigree Lleyns.

Aware of cost pressures they decided to convert the farm to Organic status and started conversion in 2005 with the aim to reduce input costs and make the most of their grassland, since then they operate strict grassland management with emphasis on red and white clover.

Enterprises include:

  • 2000 Lleyn ewes
  • 160 suckler cow herd
  • Contract rear 1700 pigs
  • 7000 free range poultry enterprise with small abattoir on site
  • Farm Bed & Breakfast business
  • Areas of the farm are managed under Natural England HLS/SSSI status

Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year Finalist 2012

System: Despite no concentrates being fed they achieve growth rates up to weaning of over 0.3kg/day. The whole flock has been EID tagged and recorded since 2007. EID and good grassland management are instrumental to their productive system and have helped to reduce lambing assistance, increase maternal drive and reduced management issues to name a few.

The Lleyn flock is split into A and B flocks to accelerate breed development. With the majority lambing outdoors during March and April, the A flock is put to carefully selected Lleyn rams and prior to RamCompare the commercial B flock was put to Signet performance recorded Charollais or Hampshire Down rams. Tupping from mid-October for 6 weeks they achieve a conception rate of 1.8

Post lambing management: Everything is carefully recorded at birth and lambs are weaned at 100 days. Commercial lambs are sold directly to Randall Parker. Over the first two years of the project the first batch of over 100 trial lambs has been drawn each year at ten weeks post lambing, the majority of lambs are finished by mid-September.

 “The information gleaned from the first two years of this project has been very interesting both in terms of the use of EBVs and the cost of production,” said Duncan.

“Having a standardised terminal sire index will be great asset for the UK sheep industry. I am keen to remain involved with RamCompare. The data collection from trial lambs provides knowledge on their progeny group performance giving robust evidence for each sire group. In turn this provides a tool which we can use to develop the management of our own business. Anything that helps sheep farmers to increase margins must be welcomed.”