Rams add flair to flock; Anglesey farmer David Williams tells Jill Roberts why he switched to Beltex rams.
ATTENTION to detail in breeding and feeding is key to the Beltex-sired prime sheep enterprise run by Anglesey producer David Williams.
Last year, from the end of April to early July, his 492 Beltex cross lambs finished and sold deadweight averaged a carcass weight of 18. 80 kg and hit the top three grades for quality, averaging pounds 58 a head.
Mr Williams invests in his pedigree Beltex rams as well as paying attention to feeding - in particular homegrown forage.
``The Beltex was recommended to us by a neighbour about 10 years ago and we bought one off him, then we went to Carlisle and bought another lamb which turned out to be a cracking ram, '' said Mr Williams.
``The grades of the cross-bred lambs began to change and we converted to the Beltex as the terminal sire. As commercial producers we look for the bigger Beltex as we like the weight.
``I like the Beltex-sired lambs because we get the quality. There is nothing else to compete. ''
Mr Williams, whose parents Gareth and Gwenda are now retired, started in 1991. He took on bare land with farmhouse and buildings at Tyn Rhos, Gwalchmai, Holyhead.
He now farms 176 acres of grassland on his own without labour.
The commercial ewe flock was originally North of England Mules but this has gradually changed to Suffolk crosses and Lleyns. Emphasis is now swinging even more to the Suffolk cross to produce a heavier lamb.
Ewe numbers have also been increased from 290 during 2003 to 360 breeding sheep in 2004.
The lambs, as with cattle finished on the farm, are sold deadweight. For the last two years lambs have been sold through meat company Livestock Marketing which sources quality lambs in the top three grades for conformation, supplying supermarket chain Waitrose.
Lambs are sold from the end of April to the beginning of July with the majority being sold in May, finished with a little creep feed.
The 2004 lamb crop attracted bonuses for its grades with 119 E grades, 263 U and 108 R grades along with only two 0 grades. The flock's lambing percentage was 171 sold.
Quality silage is the basis of the in lamb ewe's diet from five weeks before lambing time. Two cuts are taken - in mid June and then at the end of August/early September.
David took first place in the big bale silage section of the 2004 Anglesey Grassland Society competition. His winning silage analysed at 84. 5% dry matter, 16. 7% crude protein, a D value of 73 and ME of 11. 7.
Each year about 40 acres is reseeded with a white clover-high sugar grass mixture which is harrowed into the fields in September after the silage is taken off.
The ewes are housed from early to mid-December for lambing at the end of January/beginning of February. Lambing is kept tight and by mid February there are probably 30 to 40 ewes left to lamb.
Silage is fed daily through a feeder wag on with single carrying ewes receiving silage and minerals.
A blended feed is added at the rate of 0. 75 kg -a-day to make a daily feed intake of up to 3 kg -a-day for those scanned carrying twins or triplets.
Mr Williams believes in investing in a quality pedigree ram, usually shearlings, because ``it's half the stock''. He currently runs 11 rams and at the 2004 Carlisle premier sale in August he paid a top price of 850gns for a ram. Like others, he is increasingly looking for scrapie genotype group 1 rams.
Mr Williams expects five to six crops from his rams. He believes feeding them during the winter is important and he vaccinates them against orf. Each ram is run with 35 ewes.
Mr Williams has in the past finished up to 60 cattle a year, steers bought at ages from four to nine months old, claiming both premiums as well as the slaughter premium.
A new 160ft by 60ft building has recently been erected for winter cattle housing. However, sheep numbers have been increased pending uncertainties with CAP reforms that have now come into being.
David Williams with three Beltex rams bought at the Carlisle premier Beltex sale