Paterson, Hartbush, Dumfriesshire
“It is not just the fact that I like my Scotch Half Bred ewes, find them good to work with and suited to our farm,” states John Paterson, “I have also found that the ready demand for the Suffolk cross ewe lambs out of the Half Breds leaves us substantially better off than if we were just selling fat lambs.”
John runs the 604 acre, family-owned, Hartbush in partnership with his wife Amanda. Colin Rae has the position of right-hand man on the farm. The trio are supported on the farm by John and Amanda’s children, Louise (18) who is currently studying HNC in Agriculture at SRUC Ayr Campus and Steven (16) who is in his final year at school and hopes to study at SRUC Barony starting this summer. Chosen in 2012 by QMS as a monitor farm for Dumfriesshire – focusing in the main on the beef enterprise – Hartbush also has a solid reputation as a sheep farm.
The flock consists of 430 ewes, all of which are Scotch Half Bred. Around 140 replacement Half Bred ewe lambs are purchased from Lockerbie Mart each year and run-on to enter the flock for tupping as Gimmers in the following year. “At scanning ahead of the 2011 and 2012 lambings our ewes scanned 198% and 197%. Based on the premium achieved when we sell our SuffolkxHB ewe lambs I have calculated that we would have to scan at 214%-215% to subsequently achieve the same income from lamb sales.” “I like to think we are good to our ewes here at Hartbush, and I would struggle to think of any way in which we could work with Mules or any other commercial ewe to increase our scanning percentage to those sorts of levels.”
“Unfortunately, there is only so much that we can do with husbandry, figures and statistics. The 2012 weather proved that point! When we scanned ahead of the 2013 lambing we only achieved 182%. I haven’t looked at the Scotland wide scanning statistics but guess that our poor results were mirrored in many flocks throughout the country.” “We buy ewe lambs, as opposed to gimmers, as this gives the incomers a chance to build up immunity to our farm before they are tupped,” John stated.
“We are strong believers in buying locally bred replacement ewe lambs. We like to buy from the same one or two local breeders each year because we know the consistent quality of their breeding and stocksmanship and also the health status of their sheep.” “Bought-in lambs will only actually mix with the main flock at lambing time. They spend their first year with us on our hill ground, over the road at Barrhill, then we tend to tup them as a separate bunch of gimmers. They are also wintered as a separate batch before being brought inside at the end of February for lambing starting on 1st March.”
“Our strategy begins when the lambs are speaned. The ewes are pulled back hard for six weeks; we run 300 ewes on 10 acres of grass to dry them off. On the 10th of September they are dosed for fluke and worms and then run out with a teaser tup, on good flushing grass, for the next 23 days prior to the turn-out of our Suffolk tups.” “The 300 ewes will be run in two batches with 3 or 4 tups each and the gimmer batch will have a similar number of tups running with them.” “In mid January, six weeks before lambing we start trough feeding 1lb/ewe of hard feed. I don’t like to damage the ground by using a snacker,” John stated. “Also at that time we vaccinate the ewes, fluke dose them and scratch for orf. We increase the feed ration two weeks later to 1.25lb and then to 1.5lb after a further two weeks and continue at that rate until the grass gets growing in the spring.” “Ewes with lambs are turned out as soon as they are fit after lambing, and then it is grass that is the key. None of the lambs receive any feeding, they are either sold prime, through the ring at Dumfries, or as ewe lambs straight off the grass.” “We sold 236 ewe lambs at the end of August, via an agent; they went to the same Yorkshire buyer as previous years. The buyer always travels up to view them and we have built a good understanding of his requirements. The final 25 ewe lambs were sold through Dumfries Mart to a local buyer, also for gimmering.”
“The day before the lorry was due to haul the lambs to Yorkshire, we set out to tag them – and panicked! We only had 237 tags to tag the 236 lambs!” Thankfully, the Roxan Tagfaster tags did their job, going straight through all the ears without a single bent pin or mix up. “Our Yorkshire buyer buys big numbers of ewe lambs each year. I was speaking to him on the phone last spring time and he commented that there had turned out to be a few wedder lambs in amongst his 2012 purchases. He could confidently say that they weren’t from Hartbush however, as the Roxan tags had stayed in the ears of all the sheep we had sold him.” “The breeders that we purchase our replacement Half Breds from also use Roxan Tagfaster tags, which is another plus in their favour so far as we are concerned. Reliable tags that are retained in the ear are very important to us. We work with big eared sheep and I do not want welfare issues with ripped lugs and lost tags, as can be the case with tags from other manufacturers.”