Tuesday 27 February, 2024

Charollais deliver consistently for Mortimer flock  

The Probert family have a commercial mindset when it comes to breeding from their pedigree flocks. Ellie Layton finds out more  

clock • 7 min read
Charollais deliver consistently for Mortimer flock  

Livestock has always been a major part of life for Geoff Probert and his family, who are originally from Aymestrey, Herefordshire, which sits on the Welsh Border.

As he turned 24, Mr Probert moved to Northingtown Farm on the outskirts of Worcester, where he now farms in partnership with his wife Bridget, who he met through Young Farmers, and his brother John, who still farms at Covenhope.

The couple have two sons: Will, aged 18, who is hoping to further his agricultural studies in the autumn, and Alex, aged 15, who is a keen rugby player.

The 220-hectare (544-acre) farm supports a commercial sheep flock and pedigree flocks of Charollais and Texels, which are run under the Mortimer prefix.   

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Northingtown is also home to a poultry enterprise, comprising four sheds of premier turkeys, and a dairy beef system. This part of the business is supported by a long-term worker of 25 years, Steve Jay.

Mr Probert says: "Our systems complement each other and result in only needing to purchase one load of fertiliser a year because we utilise our farmyard manure on our 101ha of barley and wheat, which are grown and fed on-farm along with bought-in protein alongside 20ha (50 acres) root crops."  

 

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Focus
Their main focus is producing yearling rams to sell from home and at the National Sheep Association (NSA) Builth Wells main sale, alongside 1,100 commercial ewes for producing new season lambs, plus late season lambs and hoggs.  

The couple are firm believers in selling liveweight, with all lambs sold through McCartneys, mostly at Worcester market. The aim is for 1,200 spring lambs, which are creep fed, to be away by July, although some are kept and sold at Christmas time. This year, some of their ram hoggs reached £227.50, averaging £187.

"We can dry out here, so we aim to get as many lambs off the farm as quickly as possible. Cull ewes are away before shearing; the ewes are tagged with a different coloured tag for each year so we can pull those as we sell the lambs," Mr Probert says. 

He believes keeping a younger flock maximises lamb quality and reduces management issues, especially with the sheep being run over two farms. The commercial ewes consist of 800 Texel crosses and a further 300 Texel ewe lambs, which are run with home-bred Charollais rams.

They also run 300 Mules which are put to home-bred Texel rams, and retainthe twin and triplet ewe lambs from that cross, which then run with a Charollais for easy lambing. The hoggs and bottom end of the pure ewes go to a Beltex. 

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Lambing

The commercial sheep are lambed at Northingtown, with 300 commercials in January, 400 in February and another 400 in March, before the hoggs lamb in April.

There are 350 pedigrees which are lambed with Mr Probert's brother - at the home farm, Covehope - starting with the older commercials in late February.

Mr Probert says: "Following this, the ewes head down to us to graze seeds over the summer. We also graze kale here, with the dryness in the summer. They are then overwintered on green crops of kale, fodder beet and turnips. So, overall, it is an extensive system."  

Their grassland is predominantly permanent pasture, along with three- to four-year leys in the arable rotation.  

The Mortimer flock sells 140 pedigree Charollais and Texel rams annually, with the focus on breeding terminal sires.   

Mr Probert says: "Although the tups are pedigree, we sell with a commercial mindset. We look for length, hard fleshing, tight skins, volume of meat, locomotion and spirit, and they need to be functional and easy lambing."  

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Home-bred
Home-bred rams are used across the commercial flock, alongside stock rams which have been bought in for the pedigree Charollais flock, with the most recent being a quarter-share in the 15,000gns Cavick What A Boy.

The flock also uses Bachymbyd, Thackwood, Knockin and Tawelfa bloodlines.  One ram which has had a great influence on the flock, and goes back to the late 1990s, was bought from the Inglis flock. The 150 yearlings sired by him averaged around the £700 mark.

Harmby Moor Capelo and Galtres Favour, both bought in partnership with the Geldard family, have als

o put their stamp on the flock.   Mr Probert says: "We prefer red-headed, tighter-skinned rams - we are not looking for big pedigree heads as the rams tend to suit our commercial customers.

Before foot-and-mouth, we had never sold a tup off the farm, but that year they were all sold by mid-August."

Mrs Probert adds: "Around 40 of our customers have been returning for 30 years."  These sale rams go to the NSA Builth main sale in September, of which Mr Probert is vice-chair.  

The Mortimer flock has supported the sale and taken rams to Builth for the last 40 years - they have not missed a sale unless it has not been held. This year, they will take a selection of 60 Charollais and Texels.  

The couple have had great success in the sale ring, hitting a high  of 4,200gns in 2010 with Mortimer Jumbo.  Last year, they had prices of 3,800gns with a yearling ram, and in 2018, they reached 4,000gns with a Foulrice-sired yearling.   

"We have also done well in the pre-sale show, achieving regular rosettes, but we have never managed to pick up the overall championship," says Mr Probert 

Averages They regularly top the Charollais pen averages, with their best average being £983 for 30 sold, but the aim is to break the £1,000 average mark. In the Texel ring, they have achieved peaks of £995.   

 

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Mr Probert has close ties to the sale, and it was where he first got involved with the Charollais breed.   

He says: "At age 11, I bought my first Charollais ewe for 140gns, then sold my first ram lamb from her at the NSA Builth main sale for 720gns."  Only around five of the rams that head to the sale go for pedigree use as the sale is later in the season, so the majority are destined for commercial flocks.   

This July, the Mortimer flock is exporting a ram to Southern Ireland, and Mr Probert says the sale is partly responsible. 

"Our flock's profile has been raised through the NSA sale, which has led to opportunities like these," he says.   

In his role on the sale committee, Mr Probert believes that the sale has stood the test of time for a few key reasons.     

"Buyers at the sale have the opportunity to buy high-quality stock from various breeds.

The Builth sale is one of the few to hold an inspection of stock before they go under the hammer, which keeps optimum standards.

"There is a chance for both vendors and buyers to compare stock and their breed averages; to value them against others."

But looking forward to his year as vice-chair, Mr Probert wants to keep pushing the

sale forward, looking at a ring livestream and maintaining a safe and cost-effective way for the tup taxis to run smoothly for buyers.   

He says much of his ability to judge and select stock came from his days in Herefordshire Young Farmers, before he moved to Worcester. He competed in stock judging at a European level and across the UK, picking up many individual and team awards.

This was a strong foundation for his sheep judging career with the Charollais breed, judging at all Royal shows with the exception of the Royal Highland. 

Farm facts

Mr and Mrs Probert run Northingtown Farm, a 220-hectare (544-acre) unit 
Run the Mortimer flocks of Charollais and Texels with brother John
1,100 mule and Texel commercial ewes
Mr Probert is current NSA Wales and Border ram sale vice-chair

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