Trevor Nixon – Belnaleck, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh

Breeding started on Trevor’s farm last week, with four rams going out to 127 ewes and 35 ewe lambs on 9 November.

Trevor has opted for the same turnout date over the last three years, as this leaves ewes lambing in early to mid-April, just as grass is starting to grow on-farm.

It also makes the winter management of the flock much easier, with ewes remaining outside at grass until early to mid-March, saving on feed and bedding.

Once ewes lamb, they go back out to grass as soon as possible, provided that Trevor is happy that lambs are feeding unassisted.

Prior to three years ago, the rams tended to go out to ewes on 23 October, with the aim of getting lambing underway around St Patrick’s Day.

However, ewes would always be tight for grass and Trevor had to supplement heavily with concentrate, which comes at a cost.

Breeding plans

Of the four rams running with ewes, two are Suffolk, with one Texel and a Beltex. The Beltex ram is covering the ewe lambs, which are all home-bred.

The Suffolk rams are running with Texel and Suffolk cross ewes. The daughters these ewes produce are being served by the Texel ram.

Ewes are in great condition going to the ram and Trevor has already seen a high level of breeding activity.

The rams are not fitted with a harness, but they are raddled with paint to indicate which ewes are served. Paint colour will most likely be changed next weekend.

Over the last couple of years, the vast majority of ewes are mated in the first fortnight from turning out the rams, and all being well, this will be replicated this year.

Winter grazing

Half of the ewes have been moved off-farm to temporary winter grazing and will remain there until late January.

Once ewes are gathered and moved back home, the whole flock will be pregnancy scanned before returning to grass on the home unit.

Trevor contract rears dairy heifers and as these animals will be moving back to their farm of origin over winter, it frees up housing space for ewes coming indoors for lambing.

Animal health

Ewes were treated for fluke last month and routine health tasks are up-to-date.

Trevor keeps a closed flock and has culled hard over the past two years, which has left a flock of younger, hardier ewes that are relatively low maintenance.

Dermot McAleese – Loughgeil, Co Antrim

Dermot operates two flocks on his mixed cattle and sheep unit. One flock runs on the harder hill ground, with the other being an upland flock consisting of Texel cross Mule animals and older Blackface ewes less suited to the harder, heather mountain land.

Moving the older Blackface ewes down from the mountain to the greener hill ground gives animals another two years of production, lowers replacement rates and boosts output.

This year, Dermot is running 100 Texel Mule ewes alongside 110 older Blackface ewes. There are also 25 Texel Mule hoggets being mated within this group.

Breeding started for this group four weeks ago and practically all animals have now been covered, with a high percentage holding to first service, based on the colour markings from the rams.

Ewes are being served by Suffolk and Texel rams, with approximately one sire for every 50 ewes. Dermot is planning to leave the rams with these ewes for another fortnight.

At this point, ewes will be gathered and possibly treated for fluke. Some breeding groups may be re-jigged if necessary, depending on condition, age, type and the rams will be removed.

Hill flock

On the harder hill ground, there are 330 Blackface ewes running with the rams. Within this figure, there are 80 home-bred and 10 bought-in replacement hoggets.

The rams were turned out to the hill ewes on Monday 31 October and again, there has been a flurry of breeding activity within the two weeks that have passed since then.

Rather than changing raddle colours, Dermot is content to leave the rams alone on the hill, instead of gathering them to change crayons and possibly upsetting them.

The hill ewes are running with Blueface Leicester and Scottish Blackface rams. Two new Blueface Leicester rams joined the flock this autumn, as did one Blackface ram.


Dermot has access to winter grazing for some of the flock. The ewe lambs, which will be mated next autumn, have been moved to temporary winter grazing, as have 75 mature ewes from the crossbred flock.

The ewes are grazing on a neighbouring dairy unit and there is scope to increase numbers once grazing gets too wet on the home farm.

There has been a good bank of grass built up in advance of breeding, but ground conditions are starting to get tricky to manage, so a move to winter grazing may be on the cards soon.

Dosing and scanning plans

All ewes were vaccinated for enzootic abortion and toxoplasmosis in advance of breeding, as well as getting a mineral bolus and fluke drench.

The wet grazing conditions are leading Dermot to consider a follow up treatment for fluke in a fortnight, which should see animals covered for internal parasites into the new year.

The crossbred ewes will be pregnancy scanned at the start of January, which also provides an opportunity to get on top of parasite control.

The hardier hill flock will be brought off the mountain for scanning at the end of January and parasite control will be brought up-to-date at this point.

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