A sheep producer who purchased an entire pedigree and recorded flock is on a fast-track to increasing returns through the sale and marketing of breeding stock with high performance figures. Wendy Short reports.
MOST producers are seeking to add value to their flocks and Miles Wise is no exception. In 2015, he bought the entire Savernake pedigree flock of New-Zealand-type Suffolk sheep privately and is hoping to improve sheep enterprise profitability through the sale of breeding tups and shearling ewes.
He will also use his home-bred Suffolk sires to enhance the productivity of the commercial flock of 220 Mule ewes at the 72-hectare (180-acre) Fawdington House, a rented holding near York.
Mr Wise, who returned to the family farm eight years ago, after a decade-long career as a professional sailor, explains why the New Zealand Suffolk was his ‘breed of choice’.
“Suffolks were exported to New Zealand in the first half of the last century and the country’s sheep breeders have selected for a number of positive traits which I feel are ideally suited to the demands of our modern day commercial sheep industry.”
“First and foremost is the high growth rate potential of NZ Suffolks. My lambs are achieving 300-400g/day from birth to 20 weeks off grass.
“This compares with a figure of just 200-250 for the commercial lambs. They have a natural resistance to worms and long body length, as well as being hardy and long-lived; my two imported New Zealand rams are eightshears and still performing well.
“The Savernake flock fitted the bill, particularly as New Zealand genetics had been introduced as far back as 2003. It also came with performance figures, which I believe will become even more important in the uncertain future that we are facing. I also had a personal preference for a traditional breed.”
This year will be the first time Mr Wise has been responsible for sales with more than 40 shearling rams to sell, most of which fall into the top 10 per cent of the Suffolk breed for terminal index plus some shearling ewes and in the future may offer semen from his best rams.
Several animals have been sold privately to date and Mr Wise is hoping to build up a list of repeat buyers in the years to come. Showing will not form part of the marketing campaign, stresses Mr Wise, who farms in partnership with his father, Don and mother, Clare.
“The New Zealand Suffolk was never intended to win in the showring and it is very different from the traditional type, being lighter-boned and with a relatively narrow head,” he says. “It tends to polarise opinion, with producers either loving it or hating it.
“White-faced sheep have dominated the market for some time, but the Suffolk has been regaining popularity over the past few years.
“Admittedly, white-faced sheep have a better back end, but most of the value of the carcase is in the loin and Suffolks have the length that the processors are looking for, and they easily grade at U and R if the sheep are being sold deadweight.”
He has identified a number of traits which he feels are essential for appealing to commercial breeders.
“My customers are looking for various options: the more UK tups for producing finished lambs and the very NZ tups going to breed ewe lambs for their own replacements.”
A Signet technician visits the farm to measure the muscle and fat depth of ram lambs that are being considered for breeding. They had also been subjected to independent CT scanning before the flock was purchased and the task will be repeated this September.
The main stock rams are two New Zealand-bred Suffolks, which were imported at a total cost of about £7,000 apiece by the flock’s original owner, Wiltshire-based Peter Blanchard; a home-bred tup, which falls into the top 10 per cent index ranking for the breed, and two other high-index sires, which have been classified in the top 1 per cent for muscle.
Mr Wise has made a considerable investment in his pedigree flock; the expense associated with registration works out at about £12/head, with a fee of £250 a year for Signet recording scheme membership. The CT-scanning of a fixed number of ram lambs is partially subsidised through a scheme operated by AHDB Beef and Lamb, with a charge for each additional sheep set at £40/head. Both flocks are fully-EID recorded and in order to retain the option of selling at breed society sales, the sheep have to be MV-accredited.
Despite this additional expense, Mr Wise calculates Savernake Suffolks offer the potential to double enterprise profitability, compared with the commercial flock, as long as he can continue to improve their genetic merit and increase their value as breeding animals. Finished pure-bred lambs will also attract higher prices and his own rams used on the commercial ewes should exert a positive influence on growth rates and deadweight grading. He is currently planning to add an EBV for worm resistance to his flock data.
He says: “I will be taking individual faecal samples from selected ram lambs from this year and any worms will be identified and counted. Performance recording does involve a higher labour input; my lambs are weighed at birth, eight, 12, 16 and 20 weeks, for example.
“I am hoping that going down the specialist production route will help to secure the future of my sheep enterprises. Margins on sheep are tight and commercial breeders need to know that the breeding animals they are buying have the figures to go with them."
The pedigree sheep lamb over a six-week period starting in March, with some 80 per cent lambing in the first three weeks. They go on to a ley containing perennial rye-grass, white clover and chicory and while the ewes receive a small quantity of concentrate feed in the first few weeks, the lambs are not creep-fed over summer.
Also a fan of New Zealand grazing systems, Mr Wise has adopted a similar technique, with ewes and lambs rotated on two-hectare (five-acre) paddocks on grass measuring 10-15cm before entry. A mix containing whole oats, home-grown barley, sugar beet pulp and a concentrate mix is fed from mid-November.
A flexible approach is adopted for sale of finished lambs, including NZ Suffolk females that are not required for breeding. After checking the latest prices, a batch of 30-40 lambs will be brought in and weighed. Depending on market conditions, they will be split into two groups, with lambs possessing a higher fat cover selected for the local auction mart and the remainder sold deadweight. Live lambs generally weigh 40-50kg, with a target of 18-22kg for deadweight sales and the majority achieving U and R grades at fat class 3L. Last year saw sales divided between the two marketing options at a rate of about 50:50.