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Performance recording brings big benefits to Welsh flock

The Tyne family has risen to the challenge of farming Welsh Mountain sheep on marginal land. Angela Calvert reports.

 

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First generation farmers, Tim and Dot Tyne run 200 Improved Welsh/Talybont type ewes with their children, Iestyn, 18, Rhian, 13 and Llinos, 15, who has her own small flock of Badger Face (Torddu) ewes, at Boduan, near Pwllheli, Gwynedd.


The business is a family affair with many of the bigger jobs, such as shearing, planned for weekends so everyone can be involved.


When the couple bought the farm in 1998 it comprised of just the house, outbuildings and 9.3 hectares (23 acres). This has gradually increased to 71ha (175 acres), of which 35ha (75 acres) is owned and 24ha (60 acres) is on a long-term tenancy agreement. The rest is made up of short-term lets which fluctuate from year to year.


The majority of the land is rough, unimproved hill and old quarry workings, most of which is only accessible on foot. The Tynes, who met at the Welsh Agricultural College, started their enterprise by buying broken mouthed ewes, often for as little as £5/head from Dolgellau market.

Bloodlines

Mr Tyne says: “We’ve reduced mortality to below 5 per cent, which is partly attributable to selection for better maternal ability in our ewes.”


Attention to detail at tupping time results in 90 per cent of ewes holding in the first cycle and the bulk of the lambing is condensed into a 10-day period. Embryo transfer is used to multiply the best female bloodlines.


The breeding flock winters on the hill with ewes bought down a few days before lambing. They then lamb inside but the housed period is kept to a minimum and most return to the hill when their lambs are six to eight weeks old. Mr Tyne says: “The health and welfare of our sheep is very important. In addition to the clostridial vaccination, we vaccinate against toxoplasmosis and orf. Nematodirus has been a problem, but our current anthelmintic strategy seems to be keeping on top of it. Liver fluke is probably our biggest current challenge.


“With diseases such as scab and foot-rot, we work on the principle of ‘we haven’t got it and we don’t want it’. Any incoming animals are quarantined, and we apply a commonsense level of bio-security. Trace element deficiencies are another problem we are tackling.


“Forage samples revealed that only three of 16 essential micro-nutrients were anywhere near the required levels, leading to health issues such as ill thrift, infertility and poor immune response. We used a combination of trace element buckets and drenches, which has resulted in a big improvement in flock health.”

Mr Tyne, who previously worked as a contract shepherd, says: “We had limited capital after buying the farm, so this was a way of getting started. The best of the ewes were put to a Welsh tup, with the rest crossed and sold as couples to give cash flow. We continued to source our flock replacements like this for a few years while we built up the proportion of home-bred ewes.”

 

Only Welsh tups have been used since 2003 and the flock has been closed since 2005, with only rams bought in. Most are bought at either the NSA main sale at Builth Wells or Talybont-on-Usk sale.


Constraints imposed by the land and its availability limits expansion, but significant progress within the flock has been made since performance recording started in 2007.


Mr Tyne says: “The aim was to improve carcase traits and the maternal attributes of our home-bred replacements. Since we started recording, the average index of our ewes has doubled to 200 – close to the top 10 per cent of the breed. This has resulted in the carcase weights of our lambs almost doubling in the same period without major changes to management.”


Lambs now average a muscle depth EBV within the top 10 per cent of the breed, which has led to carcase grades improving from O and P to a larger proportion of R and some U grades, with lambs now consistently achieving 18-20kg deadweight.

Ty’n-y-Mynydd Farm

  • Land rises to 250m (850ft)
  • All silage is home-grown, baled and wrapped by local contractor
  • A Farming Connect grant was used to design and erect a purpose-built livestock building
  • Some small bale hay made, weather permitting, using own machinery
  • A small mature woodland has recently been bought to provide fuel for the central heating system

Shearlings

About 50 per cent of female lambs are retained initially and wintered away. They are shorn and return to the farm in April and turned on to the hill. Some are then sold as shearlings in autumn. The remaining ewe lambs are sold as potential breeding stock either through the market or direct from farm.


Mr Tyne says: “We select all female replacements on their EBVs and ewes are culled on the same basis. We also cull ewes with poor udder shape and attachment and do not retain their daughters. As a result, we’ve only had two cases of clinical mastitis in home-bred sheep in the last 17 years.


“The best male lambs are kept for use in our own flock as we believe in the mantra of ‘breed close, cull hard’.”


About 20 male lambs are retained to sell as shearlings. The remainder are usually finished, sometimes on rape/turnips and sometimes with additional feed.


Mr Tyne says: “We prefer to sell on a deadweight basis, but this has not been so easy since Welsh Country Foods closed. In 2015, we sold some as stores, which were making better prices than finished lambs.


“In 2009, we joined forces with other breeders to form the Welsh Mountain Breeding Group, for performance recording purposes. It now has its own annual sale of high index recorded Welsh tups, held in conjunction with Innovis at Aberystwyth. The group encompasses all regional variations of Welsh Mountain sheep, both hill and improved types.


“We’d like to see more Welsh Mountain breeders performance record their flocks and joining our group with the aim of further developing the group ram sale and possibly holding a sale of recording females in the future.”


Increasingly, a number of breeding sheep are being sold unseen, with the buying decision based on EBVs. The Badger Face flock has been performance recorded since 2013, the first flock of this breed to do so.


The family enjoys showing their sheep mainly at local shows, but events which are taken more seriously are the RWAS Spring Festival, where they have been breed champion seven times in 10 years, taking the inter-breed title in 2007, and the RWAS Winter Fair.


The farm also runs a small herd of British Blue cross cows rearing multiple calves. In the past these have been sold as forward stores or bulling heifers at 18-20 months old. Calves have been sold as weanlings direct from the farm in late autumn.

diversifications

Diversifications

  • Tim writes for livestock publications, is the author of The Sheep Book For Smallholders and is writing a book titled Viable Self Sufficiency. Dot is the secretary of the Ryeland Flock Book Society
  • The couple run an annual residential lambing course which attracts people from all over the UK and abroad
  • The latest venture is glamping, which is proving to be very successful
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