A terminal sire which would produce easy lambing offspring was key for Chris Jackson, who has to combine farming with another job.
When builder and farmer Chris Jackson was looking for a new terminal sire to use on his Texel cross and Mule ewes, his top priority was to find a breed which was easy to manage and would give him quality prime lambs with minimal lambing problems.
Then, just over two years ago, Mr Jackson read about the Berrichon, and decided it could well match his key aim. After gathering some more information he decided to give the breed a trial and is now using it on about half his commercial ewes and has started his own small Mattbelle pedigree Berrichon flock.
Mr Jackson, who has family connections to farming, also found he had an aptitude for building and after working for local builders, decided to set up his own building business based in his home village of Ingleton, Craven, Yorkshire.
While developing the business, he never lost touch with his farming roots, retaining a small flock of Swaledale sheep. As the business grew, he started renting blocks of land as they became available. He has lambed more than 300 sheep this year and expects to lamb with about 450 breeding ewes in 2015.
He says: “Both my grandfathers kept sheep. One had a smallholding in Ingleton with about 100 sheep and the other farmed near Chapel-le-Dale with about 350 sheep and 30 beef suckler cows.
“I started working on farms and also helped my uncle, who is a builder. Initially I worked for him part time and later full-time. The money was better in building than in farming and eventually I set up my own building business in 2010.”
Mr Jackson was able to take over one of his grandfather’s flocks in 2005, and including his own flock of Swaledales, he lambed about 100 sheep that year. Over time, Mr Jackson has been able to take on more land, taking a further 40 hectares (100 acres) in 2012 to add to the 24ha (60 acres) he already farmed.
Then, in February this year, he took on a further 160ha (400 acres) of land, including some under Higher Level Stewardship agreements.
He says: “To adhere to these agreements, I have to graze some cattle and decided to link up with a friend who provides some cattle and extra sheep if necessary. At the moment, I have no intentions of buying my own cattle.”
The present flock is made up of about 100 Swaledales and the rest mostly North Country Mules and Texel cross Mules. There are also the Texel and Berrichon tups.
“The Texel is a good terminal sire, but I found the lambs a little slow at maturing and they weighed a little lighter than I wanted when used on my Mules. With the Berrichon, I was looking for a slightly faster finishing lamb which would weigh a little heavier than my Texel-
sired lambs when finished off grass.”
While Mr Jackson says farming is his ‘first choice of job’, he also enjoys the building work, so the sheep system needs to be easy to manage.
“I wanted to establish a small pedigree flock, also easy care, but did not want to go down something such as the Texel/Beltex route which I felt was already well established with tup prices up to £10,000-£20,000 for the best.
“The Berrichon seemed to be an up-and-coming breed which I could be involved with at a relatively early stage. Another factor was I have built up both my building and farming businesses without having to borrow money and I wanted to continue doing so.”
The ewes are pregnancy scanned, and results usually show about 195 per cent lambs over ewes tupped and Mr Jackson says he would expect to lamb and rear close to this level.
The commercial sheep start lambing in early March, and this year Mr Jackson says a polytunnel made a huge difference to lambing. The Swaledales lamb later, mainly outside.
He says: “Ewes are brought inside about a week before they are due and will normally go out again about 24 hours after lambing.
“We sell finished lambs from about July through to January and February, but try to avoid selling in September and October when large numbers come on to the market. Ideally, we will sell two-thirds of our lambs before Christmas, finished off on grass as far as possible with minimal additional feed.”
Mr Jackson says there is a place for both the Texel and Berrichon breeds on his system.
“We find the Texel works best on the North Country Mules and the Berrichon is best on our Texel cross Mule ewes.”
Mr Jackson has plans to expand the flock to about 500 ewes.
He says: “Building will remain my main business for the foreseeable future, but I will stay as a one-man business, linking up with other businesses and tradesmen when needed. It will also stay a domestic general building business and I have no plans to move into farm buildings.
“At the moment, the business is doing well with work booked ahead through to the end of the year.
“I know running the building and ‘hobby’ farming business means working silly hours, but I am still relatively young and enjoy both.”