Reducing production costs has to be the future direction for all sheep producers as there’s a limit to increasing lamb market value.
Mark and Jane Melly, of Vernham Dean, Andover, Hampshire currently farm 850 acres. Their’s is a traditional mixed rotation, organic system with 450 ewes and a 85 cow suckler herd.
Mark’s strategy features finishing all his lambs off forage without any form of purchased concentrate, and introducing the Hampshire Down ram as a terminal sire has been one tool in his box which is already helping him to keep down costs and maintain a profitable April lambing flock within the rotational mix.
He uses the Hampshire Down ram over a portion of his Mule and Romney cross ewes and finds the lambs quickly finish to 40kg target liveweight off grass from 10 weeks, whilst 60% of the Hampshire Down crosses will have gone within 20 weeks compared with just 35% of those sired by a Continental ram.
He explains: “We have very few if any Hampshire Down crosses left by the end of November. In comparison the Continental crosses, amounting to approximately 25% of the entire lamb crop, finish on stubble turnips by the end of February.
“Earlier finishing means the opportunity for a higher seasonal market price, more forage for the rest of the flock and reducing the number of gathers, as well as risk.”
Mark worked with Hampshire Down rams over three decades ago. After a break, he returned to the breed 15 years ago, to find it had much improved; the rams leave lambs with considerably reduced back fat, whilst they continue to retain the Hampshire Down’s native characteristics – they’re vigorous and weatherproof with great tight skins which is essential farming at almost 800 ft in adverse weather conditions. They have small pointed heads and lamb with minimal intervention, and finally, they continue to demonstrate fast growth rates off milk and grass which for Mark is the name of the game.