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Low input New Zealand Romneys paying dividends
With classes for 45 breeds, the Royal Welsh Show regularly attracts an unrivalled display of sheep - but not every breed is represented. Barry Alston catches up with one of the ‘missing’ ones.
To some it may be seen as hardly the breed of sheep to be keeping on a hill farm 1,200 feet up in the Brecon Beacons, but Richard and Penny Chantler are proving New Zealand Romneys can survive and do well.
They have been keeping them on their 30-hectare (73-acre) Hill Farm, at Llanigon, in the Black Mountains between Breconshire and Herefordshire, for more than a decade - managing the flock with little intervention and keeping labour requirements low.
What they have so far achieved is the result of a vision and ambition to develop a low input, low maintenance operation based on similar enterprises experienced during travels in New Zealand.
Despite the conditions, the couple’s 300-ewe flock is consistently achieving a weaning percentage in excess of 160 per cent, is easy lambing, long living and showing a high degree of worm resistance.
“Worm-resistant sheep means a reduction in the need to use chemical wormers, saving valuable money and time, and proving even more viable for sheep reared on organic systems. Worm-resistant lambs also naturally have higher growth rates,” says Mr Chantler.
“As far as worm resistance is concerned, we are making good progress. In just five years we have considerably reduced reliance on drenching.
“In the first year we only had a small handful of lambs showing a minus figure against the mob average - but this year we have a high percentage of minus ram lambs, all capable of passing on resistance.”
His interest in Romneys began back in the late 1970s while he was employed as head shepherd at Wye College, Kent, for a development group working to improve the prolificacy of the breed.
Research concluded that New Zealand genetics acquired as part of the study achieved 180 per cent lambing rates in contrast to the traditional 130 per cent lambing rate achieved by their British counterpart. It also outperformed in meat yield and feed efficiency qualities.
Recognising the Romney genetic superiority and the opportunity to develop an efficient low maintenance flock, Mr Chantler snapped up the New Zealand stock at the end of the trial.
Then in 1986, having been chosen as a Nuffield Scholar, he visited New Zealand to observe Romney breeding systems first- hand and select ram genetics for his newly-acquired flock.
Every ewe in the couple’s flock of High Country Romneys now has a production record and all sheep are DNA recorded. This allows a mob-mate system, where the sire and dam parentage is traceable.
“The birth rank and scanning percentage for every ewe is recorded, with the DNA-scan-tracing enabling us to ascertain at weaning which lamb was born and actually reared by which ewe, creating a survivability record,” says Mr Chantler.
“All lambs are weighed at 100 days to measure the ewe’s milking performance, weighed at 200 days to monitor growth rates and assigned individual worm counts at weaning, when a dung sample is taken.
“This data is collated to provide each lamb with an Estimated Breeding Value, giving a ranking for each trait which, when added together, gives an overall ranking.
“The EBVs of the sire and dam are automatically included in each lamb’s figures.
“It also means all of our rams come with a unique production record, which shows every ram has been bred to have high worm resistance, long life, good feet and legs, with foot rot not a problem, and a good wool yield with an average of 4.5 kg per ewe. The lamb’s wool, in fact, pays for the shearing.
“All our rams are capable of serving well in excess of 100 ewes, with the record for one ram being 260 ewes pregnant in the first cycle and reducing the total number of rams necessary per flock.”
Contact Richard and Penny Chantler on 01497 820 304 or www.highcountryromneys.com