The sheep enterprise at Arnage has been a permanent fixture ever since Fiona moved to the farm in 2012. Fiona has had a passion for sheepdog trials so establishing a flock was a natural fit for the growing business. Starting off with 20 half-bred ewes, the flock has grown over the years and currently sits at 267 ewes going to the tup. The original flock of half-breds were put to a Suffolk tup. However, Fiona and Andrew found these sheep too big and too soft so have switched to Scotch Mules.
They run six tups for their A and B flocks. The A flock goes to maternal Logie Durno tups which are a composite breed for their own retained replacements. The B flock use Charollais and Suffolk tups, which are for producing lambs for market. They also run a group of Mule cross Suffolk gimmers which will go to the Innovis’s Primera composite tup.
The ewes were put on to a good cover of grass 10 days before tupping. This is critical to maximse the fertility of the ewes, which will give a tight lambing period and fewer empties.
This year they had to buy four tups, spending £525 on average.
Buying a tup at £525 gives a cost per lamb of around £4.17 at Arnage. This is based on a cull value of £80, serving an average of 40 ewes per year and a lambing rate of 150%.
Typically tups at Arnage last around four to five years. This year only one tup died on the farm and another two were sold for an average of £100 each.
Traditionally, Andrew has bought in replacement gimmers at a cost of £120 to £160/head but the farm is now moving towards only breeding with retained homebred ewes lambs.
This year, 92 ewe lambs have been retained for breeding, increasing numbers to the tup by 55.
“Our selection was made by breed and how well the mothers performed,” explained Fiona. Looking ahead, Fiona is keen to use EID tags to trace ewe performance for better breeding decisions. This year they notched the ears of any ewe that wasn’t suitable for breeding, which will make drafting easier later in the year.
The closed flock approach will help the Biffens to increase the health of their sheep. The ewes are vaccinated with foot vax, heptavac and against abortion. This year, four ewes were drafted out for culling due to bad udders. Any ewes that do not raise lambs will be culled after lambing and any empties after scanning too.
Next year the plan is to lamb the ewes indoors again in the shed if there is space. However, this isn’t vital as the change to Suffolk Mules means that lambing outdoors is also possible. Nevertheless, considering the unpredictable weather during spring in Aberdeenshire, if there is shed space then lambing inside will happen.
In the runup to lambing, the ewes will have access to mineral buckets and be fed ewe rolls to ensure energy requirements are met. Before lambing earlier in 2020 the 197 pregnant ewes were given mineral buckets and 2t of ewe rolls. This ensured that instances of twin lamb disease were kept to a minimum.
After some poor results previously, the flock switched genetics last year by buying in a large number of gimmers. However, this meant they needed greater levels of care at lambing since it was their first time. Whilst it did take more input, the care and focus given at lambing helped contribute to a weaning percentage of nearly 160%. They also took on an additional member of staff over lambing, which Fiona believes really helped maximise the number of live lambs.
Sales averaging £89/head
This year, Arnage has produced 338 lambs from 212 going to the tup. There were 15 barren ewes, 33 lambs which died in the first 24 hours and six more that died at a later stage. Lambing started on 1 April and finished on 4 May. The lambs are typically weaned at the end of July and put on to fresh pasture to maximise their output. So far this year the lambs have averaged £89/head when sold through Thainstone Mart after commission. They were sold at weights of between 44kg and 49kg.
The lambs that are still on the farm are now getting their diet supplemented with whole barley and rape meal. This is being fed in troughs to speed up the lambs finishing and keep grass for spring.
Sheep success over programme
Over the course of the programme the flock has moved from a weaning percentage of around 130% to closer to 160%. The average output per hectare for the sheep enterprise has been £860/ha, with the 2020 figures coming out next month.
Fiona puts the flock’s success down to “getting better at the job, analysing and changing how we are working and managing the flock.”
The farm has also pushed to increase the number of lambs being sold fat which in 2016 was 41% compared to 100% in 2019.
Commenting on the change, Fiona said: “I think the main reason is the better maternal ewes and also a realisation that the sheep are good for the business. The change to hybrid maternal genetics has also made a big difference.”