The introduction of a flock of pedigree Lleyns to a Staffordshire farm has bought a range of benefits.
IT is just five years since Will Roobottom started his Cowley Hill flock of pedigree Lleyns with five sheep. Since then the flock has grown to 150 ewes plus followers and makes a significant contribution to the family business.
Until the arrival of the Lleyns there had been no livestock on the family farm at Hamstall Ridware in Staffordshire, for 25 years following the dispersal of the dairy herd. Since then the focus has been on producing haylage and hay for the equine market.
Mr Roobottom, 23, developed an interest in sheep while at Bishop Burton College doing an extended diploma in agriculture and spending a lambing season with Mark Bulmer at Malton who breeds pedigree Suffolks.
However, Mr Roobottom’s choice was the Lleyn. He says: “I am passionate about the breed. They are a very milky sheep which will produce two lambs every year and rarely need assistance lambing. They are low maintenance and the breed has high health status which is important to me.”
The first ewes were bought from Sam Steele in Gloucestershire, with Will then making a trip to the breed society sale at Ruthin where more shearling ewes were bought from Graham Fort and Charles Geldard.
Mr Roobottom says: “I have always tried to buy the best genetics I can afford and for the first time last year I bought some in-lamb ewes. These were from Dylan Jones’ Lluest flock, Machynlleth, and have produced some good tup lambs for me this year, which having different bloodlines I will be able to use myself and so save money on buying in rams.”
The first ram Mr Roobottom bought, was from Gill and John Adams’ Roseland flock, Cornwall, followed by a ram from Wyn Davies which had been champion at the Great Yorkshire Show in 2018 as a shearling. Amongst last year’s ram buys were two aged rams, Kelby Goliath and Cragg Fritz.
Mr Roobottom says: “Aged rams can be more affordable than shearlings meaning that I can get better genetics for less money.”
The rams run with about 40 ewes each and for the first time last year ewe lambs were tupped.
Mr Roobottom says: “I only tupped ewe lambs which were 45kg or more and they scanned at 120 per cent. I used Fritz on the ewe lambs as he is a very compact tup and I thought he would suit them. The overall flock scanned at 187 per cent which included a high proportion of shearlings.
The main flock starts lambing inside in February followed by the ewe lambs in April. The ewes come inside in the new year, are split according to the number of lambs they are carrying and fed a carefully balanced ration taking into account forage analysis. They are turned out as soon as possible after lambing depending on weather conditions. Mr Roobottom says this year he has had his best ever lambing with minimal losses.
Lambs not retained or sold for breeding go deadweight to a local butcher, N.J. and E.T. Coles, as Mr Roobottom explains: “I supply him with seven lambs a week from June to November, although he would be happy to take lambs all year round and that is what I am working towards as numbers increase.
“The arrangement works well for both of us. He gets a supply of locally produced native breed lamb and I get paid a premium over the national deadweight average. He can take lambs at a variety of weights from 40-50kg as he has a range of customers. The beauty of the Lleyn is that it will grade 3RL even at the higher weights.
“I drop the lambs off at the abattoir which is only a few miles from the farm and they are delivered to him to be butchered. I have also started selling a few lamb boxes locally which is going well and I can achieve a premium price.”
The lamb boxes are marketed through Instagram, Twitter and local village Facebook sites, along with leaflets to local businesses.
The sheep are now used as a grass management tool fitting in well with the rest of the business.
Mr Roobottom says: “My dad, Neil, was a bit sceptical when I wanted to get some sheep, although my granddad, Graham, was more supportive, but they both now agree that they contribute to the business as grazing with sheep improves grass growth and sward density.
“We have about 40 acres of riverbanks and hills where the sheep graze until the silage grasses have been cut and then they go onto the aftermaths.
“These are all Italian ryegrass mixtures and we put in new leys every two or three years so there is always good quality grass which helps the sheep grow on.”
Mr Roobottom hopes to increase the amount of pedigree stock sold in the future and the best ram lambs are retained for this with the remainder finished outside with some creep.
At the moment the majority of females are kept to build up flock numbers with a few sold for breeding. He has also made a successful start to showing attending Lincolnshire, Staffordshire and Burwarton for the last few years.
Mr Roobottom says: “To be kept for breeding, whether by myself or sold, sheep have to be good enough on conformation, breed character and performance. Eventually, I would like to have an A flock to breed replacements and a B flock to sell commercially.”
The flock is also performance recorded with Signet and all lambs EID tagged and ewes recorded for mother ability and lambing ease with some lambs scanned for fat depth and eye muscle.
Mr Roobottom has a stick reader linked to an App on his phone. He says: “I could not afford the whole electronic weighing and recording system but the stick reader was £500 and the system works well for me.”
Health is also high on the agenda and ewes are vaccinated against toxoplasmosis, enzootic abortion, clostridial diseases and footrot and faecal egg counts taken so a targeted worming programme can be implemented.
Mr Roobottom says: “I also test a batch of 12 ewes for iceberg diseases. So far it has not shown up any problems but I believe it is better to know what you have.”
As to the future the plan is to keep building up numbers up to the point they may start to impact on the haylage business. He is currently in his final year of a degree in agriculture with farm business management at Harper Adams University.
He says: “Managing 150 ewes is not a full-time job so I hope to gain experience away from home but still be involved with the family business.”
AFTER being an endangered species in the 1950’s and 60’s the Lleyn is now one of the fastest growing sheep breeds in the UK in terms of numbers.
According to the EBLEX 2012 survey there were 474,000 Lleyn ewes in Britain compared to just 7,000 in 1971.
The report states ‘in 40 years the Lleyn breed has risen from a very small local Welsh breed to the largest non-hill pure breed in Britain and the fourth largest non-hill ram breed. It is third behind Texel and then Suffolk for contributing to crossbred ewes, outside the Mule/Halfbreds.’
The late 1960’s saw a group of breeders on the Lleyn Peninsula in North Wales champion the prolificacy and maternal traits of the breed leading to an increase in demand and the formation of the Lleyn Sheep Society in 1970.
One of the first events was a sale at Gaerwen market where females sold for £12.50/head when Welsh Halfbreds sold on the same day made £7. Prices at the 1972-1973 sales topped at £20 jumping to £70 in 1077 when demand for Lleyn ewes was starting to outstrip supply.
There are currently 12 breed society sales a year in the UK and Ireland with approximately 40,000 females and 1,500 rams registered each year.