Mike Tewson – Highlander – Appeared in the Western Morning News – June 2013

If you are a sheep farmer and would like to increase output and profitability, and at the same time reduce the workload, then talk to Mike Tewson and his son Niall.

Since introducing the New Zealand bred Highlander to his Devon unit three years ago, finished lamb production has increased by 42% to 342kg per acre while a traditional indoor lambing system has been swapped for outdoor lambing in April requiring minimal input, thereby significantly reducing production costs. Furthermore, the new system has instilled the Tewsons with new confidence to not only maintain the enterprise, but more than double flock size and the area farmed to 250 acres and provide 17 year old Niall with a real and welcome challenge. 

“I’m a first generation farmer, dedicated to farming sheep, and the time arrived five years ago when we agreed we needed to improve the enterprise’s viability,” Mr Tewson explains. “We wanted to introduce some new genetics and an accompanying management system that was simple and straightforward and didn’t require my full time input.

“We just happened to stumble on the Highlander, a small framed damline that we’re proving does what it says on the tin. The Highlander is one of the biggest developments in the New Zealand sheep sector bred by the largest red meat genetics company in the world for specific production purposes; these genetics have been selected ruthlessly for prolificacy, hardiness, ease of lambing, survivability and good forage conversion. Worm resistance and hardy feet also come in to play. The Highlander also offered the appealing opportunity to develop a closed flock enabling us to maintain health status. 

“At the same time we earmarked the Primera, a New Zealand bred complementary terminal sire, bred for fast growth from grass based system, to eventually introduce to the flock for finished lamb production.” 

In the first instance, Mr Tewson agreed to upgrade his native bred ewes to pure Highlander status. Today his 1,100 ewe flock based at Crokers Farm, Ipplepen, Newton Abbott, has reached 7/8ths Highlander. At the same time, stocking rate has increased by 25% to between five and 5.5 ewes and lambs per acre.

The ewes have proved to be fertile. “We introduced teasers before putting in the ram at a ratio of one per 100 ewes which is another strength of the Highlander; they scanned at just over 200% to lamb outdoors in April and 85% lambed within their first cycle. 

“We’ve also confirmed ease of lambing. This season we assisted only five out of 1,100 ewes on the home farm and they’d been SMB infected. The lambs are extremely vigorous – we find the first is frequently up and sucking unassisted before the second is born, and the ewes are extremely protective. In fact the flock’s management requirements are so straight forward, the time we spent with the ewes during the three weeks peak lambing was minimised to checking them three times during the day and a final tour one hour before dark.”

He adds: “We’ve been able to achieve this level of performance entirely off forage. The ewes are overwintered outdoors on sacrifice fields with ad lib big bale silage and grazed grass without any supplementary concentrates.” Although this year with the terrible weather we did put out buckets for the treble and thinner ewes for a period.

Last year flock development had progressed to a stage the Tewsons were able to introduce the Primera terminal sire to 300 grading up Highlander ewe lambs. They achieved 131% reared and finished 20% at weaning and the 20 week draw, on 6 September, to average 17.7kg with 92% grading 3L +, and 8% 3H while 15% were in the U bracket, 73% and R, 12%. Those remaining were introduced to kale, and one month later, 90% of the entire crop had reached target finishing weight. This year, those shearling ewes are schedule to achieve between 170% and 180% lambs reared.

The Tewsons Highlander flock took another step forward last year after they were approached by Focus Genetics to develop a 100 ewe multiplier flock as an added value enterprise. “It’s something I was keen to do as an added value enterprise for us and to help move the genetics forward in the UK,” says Niall who is currently studying a Foundation Degree in Agriculture at Bicton College. “New Zealanders are open to new ideas, they’ve developed these new genetics with superior performance traits that have come in to their own and which we can now endorse in the UK.” The Tewsons will have 30 Highlander two tooth rams available for sale through Innovis Breeding Sheep this autumn.

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