The Welsh Mountain sheep is a key part of the Welsh sheep industry and the breed’s qualities can be enhanced when crossed with a terminal sire.
For sheep farmer Gareth Wyn Jones there is no other sheep like the Welsh Mountain ewe.
“The Welsh ewe is the mainstay of what we do here and they do incredibly well on the mountains,” says Gareth, whose family’s farming enterprise is based at Tyn Llwyfan Farm, Llanfairfechan, Conwy.
“We aim to do as little as possible with the sheep, but they have the potential to add so much value to our business.”
Gareth, who is also well-known for his presence on social media and appearances on various TV programmes, farms with his father Roland, uncle William, and three cousins – Owen John, Robert and Ieuan, trading as O. Jones and Sons.
The land at Tyn Llwyfan takes in the Carneddau mountains and his family have farmed in this area for more than 350 years.
The family partnership runs a Welsh Mountain hill flock of 3,000 ewes in three separate flocks differentiated by their ear notches, and another 500 are kept on lower ground.
The business is run over 809 hectares (2,000 acres) in total which takes in four other farms in the North Wales area and includes 162ha (400 acres) rented in Plas Newydd, Anglesey.
Like many other keepers of Welsh Mountain sheep, Gareth is increasingly looking at crossing the Welsh Mountain ewes with a terminal sire to produce fat lambs which can be finished early in the season off grass.
For Gareth it is important to the cycle of the sheep farming business that lambs are off the mountain as quickly as possible to free up grass for other categories of stock. In particular, the older ewes which will go back up the hill after gathering takes place in August.
He says: “I like to sell lambs early when the price is usually higher, and will send lambs at much lower weights than most finishers in other parts of the country. We will regularly send lambs at 18-20kg deadweight.”
He has used terminal sires in the past with great success and is now involved in a project with the Charollais Sheep Society, which is looking at the merits of using Charollais on Welsh Mountain ewes.
Gareth is one of six Welsh hill farmers who have been involved in the project and the first crops of lambs are now beginning to be drawn.
Emma Mellen, breed development and promotion manager for the Charollais Sheep Society, explains the project’s main aim is to change the perception about the breed’s hardiness and suitability for use on this sort of hill flock.
She says: “Ultimately we want to increase the sale of Charollais rams throughout Wales. We will run the project for another two years and are keen to see how the rams fare on different Welsh hill farms with differing types of Welsh sheep.”
At Tyn Llwyfan Farm, three shearling tups were selected by pedigree breeder Huw Roberts from his 100-ewe Bachymbyd flock, based at Ruthin. Mr Roberts explains he chose tups with good head cover, conformation and tight skins, which he thought would be suitable for use on Gareth’s ewes.
Scanning results were largely in line with previous year’s results, with the first batch of 185 ewes put to the ram returning a scanning result of 98 singles, 85 twins and two triplets.
Gareth concedes lambing conditions and subsequent grass growth were particularly favourable this
year, and he would be keen to investigate the Charollais cross further to see how they would get on in more challenging conditions.
“We do not feed any concentrates over lambing, and afterwards we feed some concentrates, usually for about three weeks, and then they are solely on grass.
Gareth says: “From my perspective, the lambs have to grow fast, but also have a great meat tasting quality.”
He adds the majority were lambed outdoors and the lambs were quick to feet, which he was pleased with.
“They were up and sucking straight away, and I was pleased with how much vigour they had.”
These ewes and lambs then spent the summer on what Gareth described as ‘not the best type’ of lower in-bye land, before moving onto silage aftermaths.
They receive no concentrates and were finished off grass, the first batch were drawn in mid-August.
The bulk of lambs are sold to Dunbia, but Gareth will also send some to St Asaph and Gaerwen markets later in the season.
While the weights of the lambs picked in this first draw was mixed, the level of finish was fairly uniform.
Glynne Jones, from Dunbia, says: “We have a market for these lighter lambs, and there is little waste on these lambs.”