Farm manager, Sion Williams is no stranger to trial work, having already been involved in a number of projects comparing the performance of various dam breeds on the Bowhill Estate. With an active interest in the role of improved genetics on flock performance, Sion brought the Aberdale flock at Bowhill into RamCompare in 2015, keen to see how progeny groups performed on this upland farm. Bowhill will continue into phase II using their Aberfield flock from October 2017.
Buccleuch is a family owned business comprising up to 91,000 Ha and on four main estates located at Bowhill (Scottish Borders), Drumlanrig (Thornhill, Dumfries), Eskdale and Liddesdale (Langholm, Dumfries) and Boughton (Northamptonshire). The vast land resource is used to its best potential with awareness of new technologies and challenges. It is either farmed in hand by the Estate or managed by tenants on the estates’ let farms.
The RamCompare flock will be located at the Bowhill Estate (4201Ha) with the majority of the land lying between the Yarrow and Ettrick Valleys. Here they operate seven separate enterprises with the sheep enterprise extending to 5200 breeding ewes. Each enterprise is benchmarked with the aim to perform in the top third of the industry, monitored through Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
- 3850 Scottish Blackfaced breeding ewes on 2977 Ha of heather moorland, producing purebred Blackies or crossing to recorded Aberdale/Aberfield rams (Innovis maternal breed) producing female replacements for the in-bye flock, surplus lambs are finished and supplied to Sainsbury’s
- 1350 ewe In-bye Flock – including Pure Abermax, Primera, and maternal crossbreeds from the Scottish Blackface, providing fat lamb production, sold to the same outlets
- 190 Pedigree Aberdeen Angus Cows – producing replacements and breeding stock to sell.
- 60 Premium health Suckler Cows – Beef Shorthorn x Angus for breeding/sale/replacements.
- 280 suckler cows (Shorthorn x) on the hill farm.
- Around 470 Beef Store Calves.
- Free Range Eggs – 32,000 hen free range egg laying unit.
- A 200kW Anaerobic Digester was installed in 2016 which generates 200kW electricity back to grid every hour, surplus hear is used to dry digestate and grain for the farms.
At Bowhill they grow 25Ha Winter Barley, 67Ha Spring Barley and 9Ha Spring Oats for stock feed and 46Ha of Kale for fattening lambs and feeding suckler cows, the remainder of the land is down to grass or heather moorland.
Sheep Enterprise at Bowhill Estate
Ewes are put into single sire mating groups from October for indoor lambing to commence in March. All rams used are performance recorded with progeny from each sire monitored in terms of growth and muscle development. Abermax rams are used on the Mules and Aberfield x Blackface Ewes, and Primera rams are used on Aberdale x Blackface Ewes. The flocks currently achieving over 219% scanning rate in Aberdale crosses and slightly lower at 187% with Aberfield cross ewes.
Multiple bearing ewes are housed at scanning and singles stay out until lambing commences. All lambs are weighed, tagged and castrated at birth and are weighed every fortnight from June. Lambs are weaned at 12 – 14 weeks and are moved to red clover leys or silage aftermath for finishing. Ewes are rearing an average 1.78 with all progeny sold fat. The objective is to finish crossbred lambs from grass as quickly as possible, achieving 37-40kg live weight, and carcasses hitting spec achieving R3L or better.
Sion Williams commented; “We have been monitoring breeding improvements within our flock and recording data for a number of years to understand the strengths and weaknesses within our breeding system.”
“I’m am keen to continue in the trial in order to connect what we have achieved to date on farm, to the sheep industry. The information coming from this project will aid the understanding and development of our business, at the same time giving our industry colleagues real on-farm data to help make business decisions.”
“Economic pressures on the current sheep industry are making sheep farming less viable. I believe the RamCompare trial will give us data to indicate what difference individual rams can make to the efficiency and productivity of a sheep flock ensuring it is more sustainable during tough times.”