2014-01-29   facebooktwitterrss
Sheep Farmers Flock To Carnlough Hill Farm

Carnlough, Co Antrim lamb producer Samuel Wharry was one of four farmers, who hosted AgriSearch Sheep Farm Walks across Northern Ireland organised in co-operation with AFBI and CAFRE.

Almost 500 lamb producers attended these highly successful January events, which started with each host farmer outlining their breeding strategy.

Treading the road to more profitable lamb production at the AgriSearch farm walk near Carnlough.

Treading the road to more profitable lamb production at the AgriSearch farm walk near Carnlough

At Harphall Farm Samuel Wharry runs mostly Blackface ewes on 200 ha of moorland and grassland overlooking the Antrim coast. He uses New Zealand Suffolk rams for easy lambing as well as Swaledale rams as part of AFBI trials supported by AgriSearch

Those on the farm walk particularly enjoyed this opportunity to view both Samuel’s Blackface ewes and crossbred ewes produced in the AFBI trials. Producers expressing particular interest in the origins and benefits of using Belclare and Highlander sire breeds to obtain replacement ewes.

Where possible, Samuel selects rams using performance records (EBV’s). The main criteria used in ram selection are prolificacy / maternal ability, carcass quality and worm resistance. The key objectives of Samuel’s breeding policy are to breed durable ewes from within the flock with the capacity to increase numbers of lambs weaned and kg produced per hectare, plus enhance ease of lambing ease.

Research scientist Aurélie Aubry from AFBI Hillsborough explained that poor ewe fertility and lambing difficulties are the main constraints on profitability of hill production systems in NI.

AFBI have introduced a three breed rotational breeding strategy on its upland co-researcher farms, including Samuel’s, to introduce maternal traits, whilst still delivering high lamb output to market specifications.

The three breeds currently investigated are Highlander or Romney - for easy care, Texel - for carcass traits and Lleyn or Belclare -for prolificacy. The highest weaning rates in the trial so far were achieved by the Highlander cross. All breeds had good efficiencies of 0.8-0.9 kg lamb weaned per kg ewe.

Work continues to assess lifetime performance of these crossbred ewes with the expectation that efficiencies close to a good target of 1 kg of lamb weaned per kg of ewe body weight will be reached.

The 2014 Hillsborough Management Recording Scheme was launched at these AgriSearch farm walks. The objective of this scheme is to identify ewes in commercial flocks suited to easier-care systems and to breed replacement sheep needing less intervention at lambing.

Every farmer attending was given a lambing book to record lambing ease, mothering ability and lamb viability as well as lamb weights at weaning. Completed recording books can then be returned to AFBI, who will produce a report for the farmer. This ranks ewes within the flock on a scale of 0-100 thus providing a simple tool to help producers select replacements from their best ewes.

Samuel and other co-researcher farmers shared their experiences of using such a scheme and insisted on the importance of selecting ewes and rams based on performance records rather than just the looks.


A new sheep lameness guide, also launched at these farm walks, helps farmers diagnose the cause of lameness in sheep, identify treatment options, know how to prevent these conditions and follow best practice for foot bathing and foot trimming.

Speaking at the farm walks Jason Barley from AFBI veterinary sciences division gave a run down on the common causes of sheep lameness and how best to treat them. Emphasising that in most cases routine trimming of all feet is unnecessary and can be counter-productive.

Jason Barley also spoke on good practice as regards the treatment of liver fluke in sheep with the choice of correct product vital. He also highlighted the importance of using the right dose rate and checking your drenching equipment for accuracy.


Advisor Eileen McCloskey from CAFRE highlighted the importance of getting winter diets right. Appropriate feeding in the last 6 weeks of pregnancy will pay dividends later. Initially influencing birth weight and milk production, in turn lamb growth rate and eventually lamb weaning weight.

Silage analysis, she noted, is a vital first step in identifying the type and amount of concentrates that are needed. Producing high quality silage can cut the amount of concentrate required by 50%. Eileen also demonstrated the importance of identifying a ewe’s feeding requirements depending on their litter size and body condition score. Visiting farmers expressed particular interest in Samuel’s feeding regime at this time of year as instead of silage straw and concentrates are fed.

Stephen Flanagan, CAFRE Business Technologist, reviewed physical and financial performance on benchmarked farms, highlighting the variation between farms and the significant impact technical issues discussed earlier can have on the financial performance of a sheep enterprise. The benchmarking service allows farmers to compare their performance with others, but more importantly to monitor their own progress from year to year.


Related Links
link Challenge of Managing Liver Fluke on Sheep Farms
link Show and Sale of Ewe Hoggs at Scotsheep 2014
link Demand for Pedigree Sheep meets new Record Highs
link NSA Urges Policymakers to Make the Most of Pillar Two Funds
link Sheep Breeders

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