Using the Berrichon as a terminal sire for tough conditions and easy lambing

WHEN the Hewitson family looked for an out-cross tup as an alternative to their Texel sires for use on cross-bred hoggs, their criteria was simple – it had to sire lambs which were born easily and would thrive outside in all weather conditions. Neil Ryder reports.

When the Hewitson family took on an extra 40 hectares (100 acres) of land four years ago, rather than carry more cattle on their mixed unit, they decided to carry more sheep.

This meant Benson and Alison Hewitson, and their sons Martin and Philip, who farm at Shatton Lodge Farm, Cockermouth, Cumbria, would be keeping more hoggs on the farm.

 “We had been using Texel tups for all our prime lamb production,” says Benson.

“However, we also had Texel-sired hoggs out of Texel cross Mule dams and were concerned a further Texel cross could lead to lambing and other problems.

“It was important these hoggs should be in the best condition for sale as shearlings.”

Best match

Mr Hewiston says they needed another terminal sire for use on these hoggs and, while the specific breed was not important, it was important it met their needs and suited the farm.

“The most important thing was it would produce lambs that were born easily and were hardy enough to cope with our conditions. The breed didn’t matter, as long as it met these needs and suited our farm.”

After looking at a range of breeds, the family settled on the Berrichon after speaking to other farmers in the area who were either breeding Berrichons or using them commercially.

 “Our priority was, and still is, for ease of lambing and to be able to offer strong Texel cross shearling commercial females for sale.

“Generally we find shearlings which have lambed as hoggs sell better than those that have not lambed.”

The Hewitson family farm about 202 hectares (500 acres) of owned land and a further 40ha (100 acres) of adjoining rented land. The land runs from

around 137m (450ft) at the farm to about 305m (1,000ft) on the top.

The farm is all grass, much of which was improved during the 1980s, but includes some ‘hard’ ground. All of it is regarded as marginal.

The family runs a stratified sheep system based on 550 Swaledale ewes, of which a nucleus is bred pure for flock replacements and most go to Bluefaced Leicester tups to produce commercial Mule breeding ewes. The farm also has its own small Bluefaced Leicester flock to breed its own Leicester tups.

About 450 Mule ewe lambs are retained each year and are put to Texel tups, the farm’s main terminal sire for prime lamb production.

Of these lambs, about 150 are sold each year as shearlings.

The remaining 300 are retained and put back to Texel tups. From the resulting lambs, 200 ewe hoggs are retained to be put to the Berrichon tups.

“When we started looking for a tup to use on our Texel cross ewe hoggs bred out of Texel cross dams, we had no breed preference – as long as the tups gave us live lambs that were born easily.

“We tried several breeds, none of which quite suited our needs, before trying the Berrichon. At the time we were not really looking beyond live lambs.

“We then found the Berrichon is an excellent converter of grass and the lambs were a match for our Texel-sired prime lambs, or better, in terms of both growth and price at auction.”

Apart from breeding stock, all lambs are finished on the farm at 40-42kg liveweight.

The farm also carries about 45, mostly Limousin cross, spring-calving suckler cows, put mostly to a Limousin bull, though a British Blue cross bull is also used. All calves are finished on the farm.

Lambing gets under way indoors during March, carrying on outdoors from April onwards.

“We do not scan anything,” says Martin. “We achieve lambing percentages of 185 per cent from our Swaledales, 195-200 per cent from Mule ewes put to the Texel and 125 per cent from Mule ewe lambs and Texel cross ewe lambs, based on lambs per ewe tupped.

“This year has been exceptional and we have had what probably is our biggest ever crop of lambs, but this probably a one-off.”

Lambing starts with the Mule shearlings inside, followed by the other sheep outdoors, with shelters provided before the ewes and lambs go fully outdoors.

Despite winters at Shatton Lodge not being too hard, they can be wet and cold, says Benson.

Easy lambing

Apart from the Bluefaced Leicesters, all the tups are bought in. “Nothing is used on the main flock until we have tried them ourselves on small groups,” says Philip.

“With the Texels, we generally select tups with the smallest heads for use on our hoggs. Throughout we are looking for easy lambing.”

Looking ahead, Martin says the family feel there is little need to change their system.

“We have got what we feel is a good system which has developed over a long period.

“There is no reason to change it, though we are always looking at ways of improving it. Otherwise it is a case of ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’.”

Farm facts – Shatton Lodge

  • All the land is marginal rising to about 305m (1,000ft)
  • The Hewitson family started farming at Shatton Lodge in 1940
  • The family also runs a contract shearing business
  • Despite being just 12km (eight miles) from Seathwaite in Borrowdale – the wettest place in England – Shatton Lodge is relatively dry in comparison, with about 1,524mm (60in) of rain per year

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