Dorsets performing on the hill

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On a farm which ranges between sea level and 1800ft, sheep farmer John Blaney runs three hundred and 60 ewes on 30 acres of lowland and 600 acres of hill close to the village of Cushendun, Co Antrim.

Driven by his grandchildren’s interest in the Poll Dorset sheep and impressed by the quality of the breed he had seen at the local shows, John purchased a small selection of ewes.

These ewes run as purebreds on the lowland farm, lambing in September or October, with the fat lambs from this mating sent for kill between 45 and 50kgs in January or February time.

To run with these ewes a quality Polled Dorset ram was purchased from the Turnavedog flock of local Loughguile breeder Sean Paul McCarry two years ago.

In the ram’s first year he was also mated with a small number of Teeswater ewes. Impressed and enthused with the results of the offspring in terms of daily live weight gain and liveliness at birth, Mr Blaney widened the use of the Dorset ram in his second season to include Masham ewes and a small number of Swaledale ewes.

Lambing commences in April, with the Masham ewes in particular having an extremely good lambing to the Dorset at 220%. The single ewe lambs born off the Dorset ram are sent to the hill to quickly acclimatize to the different air quality there, this enables them to cope and perform better as mothers rearing lambs on the hill later in life.

The twin born lambs receive no creep feed and John has recorded one Masham in particular with twin Dorset lambs weighing 34kgs each at the start of June at approximately eight weeks of age. The twins are sent to the hill usually at the start of July after the ewes are clipped and dipped.

The triplet lambs are kept on the low ground and do extremely well, with creep feed introduced in the middle of June. The crossbred ram lambs are sent either for slaughter starting in August or sold as good quality stores depending on the combination of market prices and grass growth.

The primary aim of this mating to the Dorset ram is to breed first Dorset cross replacements which can lamb out of season to help even out the annual supply of lambs all year round, which in turn enables even cash flow throughout the year. Mr Blaney is also keen to exploit the potential of these first Dorset cross ewes to produced three crops of lambs in two years, again improving farm productivity and higher lamb output per ewe per year with more lambs killed per ewe on farm to increase profit margins.

Overall Mr Blaney commented: “Using the Dorset tip is the first crossbreeding we have tried on this farm and I am very impressed with the Dorset sheep.”

The NI Dorset Club would like to thank Mr Blaney for giving an insight into his farm and highlighting the versatility of the Dorset sheep.

On Monday, 27th July, 2015 the NI Dorset Club is holding their 43rd annual premier show and sale at McClelland’s Livestock Market, Ballymena, Co Antrim. This sale is will be a GB export show and sale, the judge will be Mr Alec Steff from Burnley Lancashire. The show will commence at 1.30pm and the sale will start at 6pm and is sponsored via Norbrook Pharmaceuticals Worldwide.

For any further information contact Michael Maybin on 07712828811 or Graham Cubitt on 07803133467.