Lambing time: the ‘Who’s Who’ of the Deane Farm flock
As we enter February, Deane Farm is in the middle of a busy lambing season. After a rainy start, the drier days have been just what we need for getting the lambs back to the Deane Valley pastures. Outside of the window they are laid in contented groups after a morning of zooming about -while of course often stopping to give their mothers grief for a quick milk top up! A rewarding sight. Getting the youngstock outdoors is better for both them and the Deane Farm team. Even with good maintenance, the nature of indoor housing means there will always be infections lurking to which young lambs are vulnerable. Tending them is easier, requiring daily stock checks with some supplementary feeding until the spring grass makes an appearance. Contented stock makes for a contented farmer!
We stagger putting the rams in with the ewes to aid the logistics of the lambing season. Last summer, the first were put in with the Dorsets and Thomas spent a busy Christmas holiday in the lambing shed. Dorsets are a good fit for us at Deane Farm. They are hardy and adaptable to a range of climatic conditions, which is particularly valuable with the potential of our sandy soil pastures to dry out as seen last summer. Carcass quality is also good, improving their desirability for butchers when sold either at market or directly to the abattoir. The breed has an interesting history. At Deane Farm we keep the Poll Dorset, which is a development of one of the earliest British breeds the traditional Dorset Horn. In the 1930s, the Dorset Horn’s adaptability attracted the attention of Australian farmers but their more extensive management techniques meant being hornless was a desirable trait. This was achieved through selective breeding and in the 1950’s, the first Poll Dorset rams were imported to the UK. Now the Poll Dorset outnumbers traditional Dorset Horns. An interesting link between our UK and Australian farming business, the climate and scale of production means there often seems limited comparison. However, this knowledge and genetic exchange from nearly three quarters of a century ago emphasises the increasingly global nature of the agricultural industry and the benefits it brings. Of course this global nature also has marketplace repercussions, the most topical example being developments in the Ukraine war and the corresponding fluctuation in grain prices.
The Mule ewes are the second lambing group with the latest round of new arrivals just starting to make an appearance. The North of England Mule is a very popular UK breed, accounting for 14.4% of the national flock . It is a cross-breed, sired by the Bluefaced Leicester ram with either a Swaledale or Northumberland Blackface dam. The sire provides the milk production, early maturity and desirable carcass traits while the hill dam is important for vigour and hardiness. Similarly to the Dorsets, the characteristics of Stokeinteignhead pastures mean the breed is also a good fit for Deane Farm. The combination of a hardy hill sheep with a prolific lowland type breeds a ewe that can be effectively crossed with a terminal sire to produce fast growing lambs. The high prevalence of the breed means it is selected for interesting projects to accelerate breed improvement through increased data recording, gauging genetic potential and usefulness of breeding technologies.
On to the gentleman, the rams are also a very important part of the Deane Farm flock! We currently have five rams who are rotated around the ladies at tupping time. The suitability of the breed as ewes means we also keep two Poll Dorset rams. Ram number three is our most recent addition. He is a continental cross of three quarter Charolais with one quarter Suffolk. This brings the improved shape and carcass qualities to offspring. We also keep two Beltex rams. The Beltex breed is a newer entrant to the UK. It arrived from Belgium in 1989 and is a double muscled development of the Texel -hence the name ‘Bel-Tex’. Again, by crossing with our Mules and Dorsets, we are looking to improve carcass quality of our lambs. Not only is this more attractive to buyers but the double muscling attracts a premium through producing a greater quantity of meat on a small frame.
For a commercial flock like the Deane Farm one, getting the right mix of breeds is essential. Unlike a pedigree flock, we can pick and choose between breeds to find the right combination that is suitable for our market, geography and climate. Essentially we are looking for a ewe that is hardy enough to require only essential management to rear a vigorous lamb with carcass traits that appeal to the market place. That’s the plan anyway! As the end of lambing 2023 appears in sight, hopefully spring is just around the corner. Don’t forget to check out our lambing video on Facebook. The Mules have now started lambing at an increasing frequency and the ten dry days forecasted will be much welcome. It is a tiring but rewarding time of year!