Low Cost sheep production: planning for life without subsidy payments.

Future sheep will have to stand four square and achieve profit without payments according to the Huxter family who will be sharing more about their new strategy based on genetics originating from New Zealand when they host an Innovis open day at Waddon Farm, Portesham, Weymouth, Dorset, DT3 4ER on the 29th June, 2016 at 4pm


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“We’re on target,” says Steve Huxter. “We are achieving 196% lambs scanned from a closed Highlander flock stocked at 4.5 to five ewes and lambs per acre on a forage based system, with one person managing up to 1,800 ewes.

“We are establishing a flock that can virtually look after itself, demonstrate efficiency by maximising kilos of lamb per acre from grazed grass and forage crops, sell added value surplus ewe lambs and leave as much profit as possible,” he explains. 

“Our Highlander ewes are consistently producing more from less; they mature at an average 60kg and are averaging at least 29% lambs more reared than any other genetics we’ve ever farmed. We find the vast majority lamb within the first cycle and by themselves – we’ve hardly ever have to touch them, the lambs are vigorous, and the ewes make good mothers with plenty of milk. Furthermore, they thrive off grass without any concentrate, last winter being an exception. We are expecting seven lamb crops, five a minimum, and for the culls to have a higher carcase value.

“What’s more, these ewes come with an evidence base which we believe is the way forward – they are bred from trusted performance recorded stock from Innovis.”

The Huxter family are dedicated sheep producers, a fact that is reflected in their 5,000 ewe enterprise. “We are gearing up for the future with a much lower level of support by embracing change, and that means a sea change in genetics, management and trading opportunities,” says Steve.

“We used to travel north every year to buy Mule replacements and introduce them to one of the three main terminal sires – that had been the bedrock of the business for over 40 years; today these ewes are being phased out,” Steve explains. “There was a lot of money going out each year and we didn’t know exactly what we were buying in. Nowadays, we’re breeding and rearing our own replacements, they demonstrate uniformity, they are precisely what we want, and at a cost price. We also have the peace of mind when it comes to biosecurity.”

Steve says the family stumbled on the Highlander by accident five years ago. “Mules just didn’t fit on one of our units; our scanner suggested investigating the Highlander which originated from New Zealand. We were amongst the first in the area to invest in these genetics with 100 ewes. Since then, we haven’t looked back and are retaining 500 ewe replacements annually. This year we’ve stepped up by introducing another 1,600 Highlander ewes from known sources simply because we had the opportunity to rent another farm.”

Post lambing, ewes are mob grazed at five per acre with twins until weaning at 12 to14 weeks when the lambs are introduced to reseeded leys within a five year rotation which in future will include chicory and plantain as well as clovers, whilst the ewes are moved on to older pastures and eventually to winter on root crops. “They are naturally prolific, consequently don’t need flushing thereby freeing up more quality grass for the lambs." 

Wether lambs are sold as stores, at an average 24 weeks to local finishers, whilst the ewe lambs are retained as replacements whilst in future, surplus will be sold for breeding purposes.  

The Huxter’s remaining Mules are crossed to the New Zealand bred Primera for finished lamb production. “These lambs have incredible vigour which makes for an easier life at lambing. A great deal of the crop is finished off grass within 12 to 20 weeks to 19kg to 20kg target deadweight and grading within the R3L bracket.

To the future, and they say if any further opportunities come along to grow the business, then they’ll never say never to taking on additional land. “We are developing a successful profit driven strategy based on genetics which are suited to a large scale operation, and we have confidence in the future lamb market.”

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