Futureproofing a Stirlingshire sheep enterprise 

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Duncan McEwen is preparing his family’s future 1,000 ewe enterprise by introducing a performance led strategy featuring Innovis genetics combined with focused grassland management. He’ll be discussing how within the first two years he has reduced costs and improved output when he hosts an Innovis open day at Arnprior, Stirling on Monday 25 July. 

“There are things that we Scottish farmers cannot change post Brexit, however there are others that we can by making the better use of our resources;  I believe it’s a case of acting now before the crunch actually hits us,” he says. “I’ve visited New Zealand where the subsidy rug was pulled from the country’s farming systems, and those who survived had introduced pure performance and profit led strategies. 

“We aim to maximise output - kilos of lamb per acre from a low input least cost system.  We also wanted control of the flock genetics and farm more functional stock.    

“Consequently we’ve decided to expand the sheep enterprise by almost twofold to 1,000 ewes at the expense of a 60 cow suckler herd, potentially increasing by a further 500 ewes as we move forward. This increase has also coincided with a move away from traditional genetics with bought in replacements, to a more stratified system where draft cheviot ewes are crossed with an Aberfield. The resulting ewe lamb is then put to the Abermax for finished lamb production,” explains Duncan who farms Arnprior, Stirling, a 800 acre mixed unit with his parents, Duncan, Anne and wife, Rebecca. 

“To get there, we are buying in draft North Country Cheviots from the North West and while it’s early days we are so far pleased with the results. The Aberfield cross hoggs scanned 110%, and they reared 98%. Tupped from weights of 40kg upwards and wintered solely on grass and silage, plus hipro soya feed for the last six weeks at 100g per foetus, they came out of the winter to average 55kg. So we are happy with their ability to get high levels of production out of a forage based system.”  

The Abermax crosses have also proved their worth, with their ease of lambing drawing particular praise. To the extent that they have given the McEwen’s confidence to increase the number of ewe hoggs tupped, with a target of 300 head in mind for tupping 2016. "We moved to lambing ewe hoggs roughly ten years ago and have used a number of breeds to try and achieve easily born lambs. We got our first Abermax two years ago, and they have been a revelation from a lambing ease point of view, whilst new born Abermax cross lambs appear plain, they are lively, quick to stand/suckle and extremely quick to grow. We find they are killing out very well around 48% to 50% and can comfortably achieve carcass weights of 21kg, perfect for the processors. 

“We chose Innovis genetics because they ticked all the right boxes for us. These sheep have been reared on grass based systems, they are all performance recorded and the scale of the breeding programme allows massive selection pressure. 

“In year one, 2014, we turned out our first Aberfield tup with 100 ewes, and after 5 weeks he came out in exactly the same condition, having lost only 0.5kg. 87% went on to lamb within the first three weeks. 

 “In fact we’ve been able to cut concentrate usage by almost 70% by exploiting their grazing ability and introducing a managed rotational grazing system using an electric fence to move mobs of up to 300 ewes with lambs to take down the sward from 2,400kg DM/ha to 1,400kg DM/ha. Despite extreme and challenging weather, the regime has resulted in higher quality grazing, higher quality silage and a 50% reduction in fertiliser application.”   

He adds: “Introducing these changes to put new resilience in to the business is hugely challenging, however we are confident that this strategy will enable us to maintain a future profitable sheep enterprise.” 

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