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Hampshire Down Produces Added Value Finished Lamb

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.

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 said.

“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 boxes.”

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 returns.

“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 efficiently.”

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