Sion 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 can’t wait to see how rams rank on this upland farm. Find out more about this pioneering sheep enterprise.
Who are you and where do you farm?
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 (3563Ha) 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 4500 breeding ewes. Each enterprise is benchmarked with the aim to perform in the top third of the industry, monitored through Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).
- 3200 Scottish Blackfaced breeding ewes on 2630 Ha of heather moorland, producing purebred Blackies or crossing to recorded Aberdale/Aberfield rams (New Zealand based maternal breed) producing female replacements for the in-bye flock, surplus lambs are finished and supplied to Sainsbury’
- 1300 ewe In-bye Flock – including Pure Highlander, Primera, and maternal crossbreeds from the Scottish Blackface, providing fat lamb production, sold to the same outlets.
- A further 250 Blackface ewes are contract farmed for the Estate.
- 170 Pedigree Aberdeen Angus Cows – producing replacements and breeding stock to sell.
- 50 premium health Suckler Cows – Beef Shorthorn x Angus for breeding/sale/replacements.
- 220 suckler cows (Shorthorn x) on the hill farm.
- Around 380 Beef Store Calves.
- Free Range Eggs – 32,000 hen free range egg laying unit.
At Bowhill they grow 50Ha of spring barley and 9Ha of spring oats for stock feed and 35Ha of Kale for fattening lambs and feeding suckler cows, the remainder of the land is down to grass or heather moorland.
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. Texel rams are used on the Mules, Primera rams are used on Texel Mules and Aberdales or Aberfields are used on the Blackface ewes, currently achieving over 205% scanning rate in Aberdale crosses and slightly lower at 184% 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 1.76 with all progeny sold fat. The objective is to finish crossbred lambs from grass as quickly as possible, achieving 40kg live weight, and carcasses hitting spec achieving R3L or better.
What excites you about the project?
Sion Williams, runner up for Farmers Weekly Farm Manager of the year award 2013 commented; “We have been monitoring breeding improvements within our flock and recording data to understand our strengths and weaknesses within our breeding system.”
“I’m looking forward to participating in the trial to connect what we have achieved to date on farm, to the sheep industry allowing us to understand and learn as a business, and our industry colleagues to get real on-farm data to help make business decisions.”
“Economic pressures on the current sheep industry are making sheep farming less viable. I’m looking forward to being involved in the RamCompare trial as it will hopefully give us data to indicate what difference a ram can make to the efficiency and productivity of a sheep flock ensuring it is more sustainable during tough times.”