David and Sally Dixon are among those dedicated hill farmers who
are focused on continually improving flock output and exploiting
the market place to ensure a sustainable business.
David Dixon with his Hampshire Down cross lambs and
Texel cross ewes.
Last season they swapped a continental terminal sire for the Hampshire
Down to put over a portion of their Texel cross Mule flock enabling
them to finish lambs to target weight up to four weeks sooner and
command a premium price from the earlier market.
“We decided we could improve returns by extending our finished
lamb marketing period to take advantage of the earlier higher prices,” David
“Historically an 18kg deadweight lamb sold in June to average
between £8 and £10 a head more than one marketed four
weeks later. Therefore, we wanted to finish our lambs faster, and
hit the market at least one month sooner.
“Lambing any earlier than our traditional March date was
out of the question because of lack of grass at that time of year
and the additional cost of required inputs would far outweigh the
benefits,” says David who together with Sally manages a 1,200
ewe enterprise comprising a mix of Swaledales, Mules and Texel
cross Mules at Hartley Castle, Hartley, near Kirkby Stephen, a
550 acre Cumbrian hill unit with accompanying moorland grazing.
“So we turned to exploring the different genetics available.
We agreed if we were to introduce a new breed to the flock, then
it had to be one that was easy to manage.”
David was among the first sheep producers in the region to introduce
the Texel as a terminal sire back in the 1980s.
“I’m never afraid to try something different which
I believe to have a future,” he says. “We’d read
that the modern Hampshire Down was a terminal sire which had the
genetic potential to deliver just what we were looking for, so
we invested in a ram and have since found it has ticked all the
The Dixons put the Hampshire Down over a portion of their March
lambing flock of Texel cross Mules to achieve 180% lambs reared. “Firstly,
the lambs were easy to lamb out of shearling ewes; no assistance
was required, they just fell out.
“Then they proved to be very active, these lambs were up
and away sucking immediately. They were born with fine skins and
were turned out within their first 48 hours and since then they
have continued to grow away without any checks.”
Overall, the Hampshire Down cross lambs are finishing between
four to six weeks faster than their Continental cross counterparts
on the Cumbrian unit. The first batch reached 40kg target finishing
liveweight at 12 weeks solely off milk and grass.
“I think they did particularly well at a time when the farm
is very tight for grass. We expect the remainder to be finished
without any form of supplement within 16 to18 weeks of age,” he
explains. “We sold the first two batches through the local
ring, and one of the buyers, a local butcher told us the lambs
killed out at an average 54%.
Apart from selling into a stronger market, David Dixon says that
finishing lambs earlier has brought cost savings and allowed more
grass for the remaining lambs to finish on.
To the future, and David believes family run hill units like Hartley
Castle with its moorland grazing rights will require continued
support for them to remain viable. “There is only so much
we can do as farmers to improve our efficiency and improve market
“For example, better use of minerals and trace elements
together with improved grassland management during last 8-10 years
is now enabling 85% of lambs to reach their finished target weight
off grass, while the Mule flock is now consistently achieving 200%
lambs reared per ewe.
“More recently we have joined various environmental schemes
and cut back ewe numbers to a more manageable flock size enabling
us to reduced input costs. We’re also a member of Swalex
Ltd, a group of four local farmers established to develop added
value export markets for the UK’s stratified sheep breeds.”
He adds: “Introducing the Hampshire Down is the latest tool
to the armoury helping us produce added value finished lamb, more
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