All year round income with Dorsets

Daniel and Declan Higgins with their flock
Daniel and Declan Higgins with their flock

Nestled close to the village of Martinstown in Co Antrim lies the townland of Knockanully, where brothers Daniel and Declan Higgins, run their father Donal’s pedigree flock of Poll Dorset sheep.

The current flock, under the Knockanully prefix was established in 1992 with ewes purchased from the Ballyhamage flock of the Robson family and from W and K Carson’s Downkillybegs flock, however Donal’s interest in the Dorset breed goes back even further.

This year for the first time the Higgins family are adopting a frequent lambing system.

The ewes lambed last in August 2015 with a 160% scanning average, a 97% unassisted lambing percentage and no lambs lost.

The lambs were weaned in November, the heaviest lambs were weighing 45.5kgs. Ewes had received no concentrates throughout their pregnancy and lactation, with only a few mineral buckets provided.

The ewe lambs were all easily sold at weaning, highlighting the popularity of the breed. The ram lambs were housed and finished for a month indoors, with the range of finished carcase weights from 23kgs to 29kgs.

The stock ram was introduced to the ewes again at the start of November and a recent scan shows all ewes are back in lamb to start from the 27th March, with all except for two ewes tipping within the first 17 days.

The ewes are currently housed on a wire mesh floor, receiving good quality silage and again a mineral bucket. This cuts out the cost of any concentrates for the majority of the ewes, with only half a dozen ewes in a poorer than ideal body condition split off and supplemented. At this second scanning the ewes also scanned with a 160% lambing percentage, giving a total of 320% for the year. The hoggets are managed slightly differently, they have been lambing over the last three weeks, housed in the Higgins’s new polytunnel. Due to the extremely high rainfall this year the ground is too wet for the mothers to be out, but the lambs are able to go in and out at will.

This system being used by the Higgins family demonstrates the versatility of the Dorset ewe, allowing manipulation to lamb whenever best suits, with batches of lambs ready throughout the year helping spread income.

The NI Dorset Breeders Club are holding their third annual Spring Ram Sale in Ballymena Livestock Market on Monday 14th March, including classes for ram lambs, shearling and aged rams. Showing commences at 5.30pm, sale at 6.30pm. For catalogues or further information please contact the club secretary on 07841746705.