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Life on the farm is a lot easier these days; JUST ONE DRAWBACK WITH 'WOOL-LESS' SHEEP.

By ANDREW FORGRAVE Rural Affairs Editor farming@dailypost.co.uk WHEN sheep farmer William Williams opted for Easy Care sheep, he discovered the breed came with just the one disadvantage.

"They're not so easy to get hold of," he said.

"As they have no wool, you can't get a grip on them.

"And when using a crook, you need to catch them around their legs, rather than their necks, to get a good hold."

Other than this minor inconvenience, the breed has been plain sailing for Mr Williams since he first introduced them to his Lon Isaf farm at Llandegai, Bangor, in 2006.

They came, he said, without any of the genetic baggage associated with modern breeds, offering a cleaner slate from which to start his breeding improvements.

He looked at the New Zealand Romney but it was a contact at Scotland's Rural College that first recommended Easy Cares to him: an irony, given that the college has since jettisoned its Easy Care ewes, complaining they were just too low maintenance for their students.

This was exactly the attribute that attracted him, however: he wanted a hassle-free management system that would save him a pound-a-ewe on the shearing contractor, and do away with the annual drudgery of dagging and dipping.

At the time he had 1,100 Continental crosses, which were steadily phased out in favour of the Easy Cares. Since then Lon Isaf has gone to a low-input system, with the flock downsized to 600 ewes, 90% of which are now Easy Cares.

Mr Williams said: "The Texel crosses looked good but the work involved with them was phenomenal.

"Lambing time is much easier now. It's all outdoors and is much more natural - the ewes just find a place in the fields and all that's needed is a daily welfare check. They rarely need any intervention."

At Lon Isaf the ewes are grazed on a New Zealand cell grazing system - similar to rotational grazing but more intensive - with all lambs destined for Dunbia.

Lambing rate is around 170% and growth rates are par for a lowland breed, said Mr Williams. "In fact, if anything, they are slightly better, as all the energy they consume goes into marking protein for muscle, not wool," he said.

The Easy Care was developed in the mid 1960s by Anglesey farmer Iolo Owen, who this year is celebrating 50 years of the breed society he established.

It is derived from the Nelson Welsh Mountain, crossed twice to the Wiltshire Horn, a wool-shedding breed. The decline in wool values of recent years has coincided with a rapid rise in ewe numbers: in a little over nine years ewe numbers in the UK have increased eightfold to 119,000.

Other factors, some of which may or may not be true, have added to the breed's impetus.

These have included a suggestion ewes may be less susceptible to Schmallenberg and are less affected by the anthelmintic resistance of older wormers.

Whatever the case, they do retain some of their ancestral traits.

"They're definitely not docile sheep," said Mr Williams.

"The clue is in the name - they are quite wild sheep. They're feisty and know how to look after themselves - you need to have a tighter grip when handling them!" Downsizing the flock was, in many ways, a natural progression towards the goal of hands-off selfsufficiency. Now, without feed costs to worry about, the only bought-in items are Rumenco Lifeline feed blocks to boost colostrum levels.

It's also prompted Mr Williams to refocus his breeding strategy, armed with his new EID system that was partially funded by HCC's PS500 grant scheme. He's looking to produce rams that will enhance the dam line, and may go down the pedigree route to boost sales.

He added: "I don't have any regrets about making the switch.

"Management is so much easier - I certainly don't miss having to do the dipping and dagging."

CAPTION(S):

Easy Cares can be a little wild but their productivity and prolificacy is high, said Mr Williams |

Mr Williams is aiming for |self-sufficiency as well as a lower workload PICTURES: ARWYN ROBERTS
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Date:Mar 5, 2015
Words:685
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