Ian Buchanan and family of Dungiven, Co Londonderry are helping ABBI scientists compared a range of crossbred ewes in trials selected for support by AgriSearch, the Northern Ireland Agricultural Research and Development Council.

Key players at the AgriSearch sheep event near Dungiven included, from left, AFBI vet Jason Barley, senior sheep advisor Neville Graham from Greenmount College, host farmer Ian Buchanan and Dr Alistair Carson, head of AFBI, Hillsborough.

During an AgriSearch farm walk on Ian’s sheep and dairy farm over a 100 fellow farmers were updated on results from using composite sheep from New Zealand in three ways crosses..

A composite sheep developed in New Zealand to produce a maternal ewe with high fertility and easy lambing traits, is being used in three way crosses with two other white faced breeds, the Belclare developed in Galway and the Texel, which originated on the Dutch Texel Islands.

This is part of an exciting AFBI on farm research programme aimed at making local sheep units more efficient and hence more profitable. As part of this trial the Buchanan family are also crossing the horned breed traditionally used in the Sperrins, the Scottish Blackface, with the Swaledale, which is so popular in the Yorkshire Dales. Other sheep on the Buchanan farm are mostly crossbred ewes with the main flock lambing in March and April. Teaser rams being used to keep lambing times tight.

Visitors to the AgriSearch Co Derry farm walk run in association with the National Sheep Association also heard that ewes are housed in December and winter clipped by early January. During late pregnancy they are fed a TMR, total mix ration, of silage along with meal bought through Sperrin Producers Co-op. Founded in 1990 and with over 200 members this Co-op includes a lamb marketing group and allows members to buy meal, fertiliser and fuel at group rates.

After lambing the Buchanans put their single suckling ewes and hoggets back to the hill with multiple suckling ewes given a run on lower fields.

In lively discussions during this farm walk on topics such as sheep breeding, health and nutrition the AFBI scientists, CAFRE advisors and local farmers kept coming back to a common theme, the need for simple, accurate and easily used records.

Ian Buchanan noting that the Hillsborough Management Recording Scheme developed by AFBI with farmers helps identify ewes in commercial flocks best suited to easier-care systems that reduce production costs. Thus replacement sheep can be bred that require limited help at lambing time and produce a good crop of lambs with a will to survive and thrive.