This was a fascinating visit to a forward thinking unit where sheep numbers have risen from 1000 a few years ago to a current flock of 2000 breeding ewes and 700 ewe lambs with the target of 3000 ewes in 2012.
Church Farm is spread out (not ring fenced) and run on a high input system which suits soil types, finance and the Heritage family. Aspects of the farm are both unconventional and traditional: There are 400 acres arable, with two wheats then a two year break starting with stubble turnips then January sown peas. A new break being tried is Canary grass for seed. 500 acres permanent pastures are used for sheep plus autumn grazing on farms making horse haylage.
After having Maedi-Visna a flock closed on the female side was established based on 1000 clean North Country Mules. Current rams used include Texel, Hartline, and Highlanders, with a nucleus flock to breed composite rams – half of the rams used rams are home bred and rest bought in.
All ewe lambs are mated and all sheep are grazed on stubble turnips to Christmas /Jan then housed, winter shorn and scanned to lamb inside. Ewe lambs start lambing mid March at the same time as the main flock mainly for adoption purposes, whilst lambing labour is available and before arable work begins. Ewes and lambs are set stocked through the spring with the first lambs sold in June with weaning in July. They continue to sell lambs throughout the year with most going away in June, July and August – there is a break from then until the end of November/December with the remainder sold by February.
This is a good example of a farm where the sheep are closely integrated with arable crops with some clever establishment methods and new ideas, and was well worth a visit.