We were looking forward to the arrival of the scanner to pregnancy scan the ewes. We had put 24 ewes into the breeding programme this year and were hoping for great things. As often happens, things didn't go according to plan, of the 24, only 12 were confirmed as in lamb for the January lambing. We had expected some misses but half of the flock was a bit of a shocker! Of the 12 confirmed in lamb, seven of them are only carrying singles; salt added to the wound. Much head scratching ensued trying to figure out what we could have done to get better results. We haven't come to any conclusions yet but will continue to try to figure that one out.
Fortunately, we had anticipated a few empty ewes (but not that many) and we had come up with a plan to deal with that. We had planned to get a stock Ram with a view to having a second lambing in early April 2014 and we managed to buy Super Sonic II from Richard Garner's Ortum flock (http://www.garnersuffolksheep.co.uk/). Super Sonic II is one of the top Stock Sires by index in the country, with an EBV index of 6.47 and will no doubt help with our plan to push both the flock index and the breed points for any lambs that we might show in the future. Adding him as a stock sire was an opportunity not to be missed. He is currently in the paddock working hard to make up for the AI disappointments.
The fine weather over the last few weeks has brought out the arable guys with their impressive combines and little clouds of dust have been appearing throughout the surrounding countryside indicating where they are harvesting. The corn carts have been scurrying back and forth taking the grain back to store. From the reports that I have heard, harvest is going well so far this year.
The good weather together with occasional showers have helped the grass around our farm too and there is an abundance of grazing for the livestock. We have been trying to get the ewes back into breeding condition, but the exceptional grass growth has meant that some of them are in slightly too good condition! It is probably a bit late now to put them on a diet as the run-up to the breeding programme starts next Friday.
We will be breeding through AI again this year and Innovis are booked for mid-August to come on to the farm to do the job. We have selected two top Rams for our breeding programme this year (more about them in another blog) and we are looking forward to another excellent lot of lambs. I had better not speak too soon though as there are a lot of hoops to jump through before that happens and we need to take things step by step.
One tiny cloud on the horizon; we had a TB test notice through the other week for our tiny herd of beef cattle (6 at the moment) so the vets are coming to do the tests over two visits next week. I don't anticipate any problems at this stage, but wish us luck anyway!
We were delighted to find the results from our performance recording in the post box this week. We had joined the Eblex/Signet scheme which helps the promotion of performance recorded sheep, especially the rams, through their Better Returns Programme and we opened the envelope with all of the anticipation of a Hollywood awards ceremony (but with much less glitz).
The first results show that we are on the way towards our aim of breeding high performance Suffolk sheep. All of our lambs this year (10 ewes, 9 rams) rate in the top 50% of the UK flock with half of them rated in the top 10%! For such a small and recently formed flock we think that we have done exceptionally well and we are very pleased!
As part of the Better Returns Programme, Eblex have sent us Certificates of Merit for our ram lambs and of those that we have retained, we have 3 Gold and 3 Silver - they have gone on the 'Hall of Fame' in the barn! There is still a lot of room for improvement though with top ram lambs in the UK flock having an index over 7.
I have broken down the results below, if you would like any more details about our sheep or about performance recording, please get in touch with us.
Better Returns order of merit
It's been quite an eventful few weeks and all very encouraging.
Scanning: It started in early May with the arrival of the Scanning Technician from Signet. The procedure was pretty easy with the lambs being weighed and then scanned whilst they were still in the weigh crate. The results of the scans were available immediately and the comparisons with the whole UK Suffolk flock should be available in early June. One of the scans showing the eye muscle (the meaty part of the Lamb chop) is below:
Newark Livestock Market: Two lambs were taken off to Newark for the Saturday fat lambs sale, there were around 25 pens of spring lambs and we were delighted to get the top price for the morning for our pair. They were looking good and we are confident that the buyer got a great product! The morning was all the better for bumping into the President of the Suffolk Sheep Society, Sheila Eggleston.
Hadleigh Show: The day for Hadleigh show was dry, bright and warm. An ideal day for an English Country show! We took along a couple of Rams and a pair of ewes. All of our entries came home with a rosette with the highest placed being the pair of ewe lambs coming second. We enjoyed the rest of the day looking at all of the excellent livestock on show and all of the trade stands selling great stuff. The Sheep Show was there too and no matter how often I watch the show, it always makes me laugh. Do go along to one of the shows this summer if you can.
Shearing: Shearing day is one of those days that marks the start of summer and the sheep lose their thick winter coats. Charlie Hughes who is just starting out as a shearer did the job and brought along his parents to help out. They did an excellent job and the sheep looked great when the job was finished. They will look even better in a couple of weeks when the wool has just begun to grow again. It was great to see the rams born in 2013 with their working clothes off (this was the first time that they had been shorn), and they are looking good too. They have got a spring in their step now and a new found swagger when they walk across the field. There is a photo of Charlie getting into the job below. If you need a shearer then Charlie could be your man; get in touch with me and I will let you have his contact details.
A busy Sunday started with weighing our lambs. There are some encouraging signs with the heaviest lambs coming in at 30kg at 8 weeks old, demonstrating perfectly the ability of the Suffolk to grow quickly. Most of the lambs have doubled their weight in the last 4 weeks!
The exceptionally wet weather manages to keep all of the sheep indoors though; with much of the livestock throughout the area being kept away from waterlogged pasture. It could be a late turn-out this year!
We started lambing on 28th December and finished around the middle of January. We were fortunate with mild weather (although it was a bit wet!) and everything went reasonably smoothly. We now have a fine crop of fast growing, strong and healthy lambs. We have lambs from four top sires this year and are looking forward with great anticipation to our first season of Signet Recording. The lambs that we have this year were sired by Kersey Rising Star, Drinkstone Top Muscle 10, Rhaeadr Revolution or Tomcroft Persuader, some of the best Rams available so we are looking for EBV's for our flock to be heading in the right direction to help us achieve our plan of breeding high index stock. Keep an eye on the website as we are likely to be publishing some of the EBV's and index results when they are in!