Focusing on maternal characteristics in Co Tyrone

Nigel Kee checking a field of ewes and lambs on his farm near Douglas Bridge, Co Tyrone.
Nigel Kee checking a field of ewes and lambs on his farm near Douglas Bridge, Co Tyrone.

Nigel Kee runs a mixed sheep and beef farm along with his family near Douglas Bridge, Co Tyrone. He is an active member of two local suckler beef and sheep Business Development Group’s (BDG’s).

Nigel’s suckler herd and sheep flock are both run intensively with high levels of output. The Suckler cows are all Simmental x Limousin.

A Simmental stock bull is currently used on the majority of mature cows. The remaining cows and all replacement heifers are synchronised and artificially inseminated to high genetic merit Limousin bulls. This allows a criss-cross breeding system.

Utilising maternal genetics ensures that Nigel can keep a closed herd and also means that a there is a constant supply of high quality heifers coming through. Heifers all calf down at 24 months. Surplus heifers are sold in late spring with calves at foot. All male calves are finished as bull beef.

On the sheep side a similar criss-cross breeding strategy is in place with Belclare and Texel genetics being used to create a prolific ewe with good mothering ability but still maintains sufficient carcass traits. Last year 300 ewes and 80 ewe lambs were put to the ram.

Ewes subsequently scanned very well with ewes and ewe lambs averaging 220% and 180% respectively. Similar to the suckler herd, Nigel’s breeding policy with his sheep flock is focused on increasing the flocks’ maternal performance.

Nigel completes physical and financial benchmarking of his flock annually and the focus on maternal characteristics is paying off, selling 1.9 lambs per ewe last year. A simple ear notching system is in place with lambs from a Belclare ram notched in one ear and lambs from a Texel ram notched in another ear. This allows for a simple breeding programme when these lambs are ready for breeding. Ewe lambs are mated to a Charollais for ease of lambing with these progeny all finished. With maternal genetics utilised on mature ewes any surplus ewe lambs are sold for breeding.

With a mild winter and plenty of grass available the majority of ewes and lambs are now on grass only along with magnesium buckets to prevent grass tetany, with only triplets and ewe lambs being supplemented with concentrates. Lambs have been tailed and vaccinated for orf prior to leaving the house and will now be vaccinated to protect against clostridial diseases in the coming weeks.

Nigel’s sheep BDG is in the Castlederg/Strabane area and met eight times over the past year, focusing on a range of measures to help improve flock performance. The group had a break for the spring time to allow for lambing, with meetings due to resume again in early May.