10th September 2018
Perthshire farmer, Billy Fotheringham is a new convert to the Blackface breed and admits he is a huge fan thanks to their hardiness and mothering ability.
Billy has this year become responsible for about 1000 acres of both permanent and rotational grass on Dupplin Estate at Forteviot and has had to rethink and simplify his sheep system for the increased acreage.
Up until now he has farmed 750 acres at Bankhead, tenanted from the estate, organically with a stock of 1200 Cheviot and cross ewes, however he believes margins in sheep farming are tight. He said he needs numbers and easy care ewes to make money and he finds his current stock are not prolific enough.
He also plans to pull out of organic and said, Ive been organic farming for 12 years but the premiums are not enough to make it work; at best 10p per kg. It will also be too complicated now with more stock and acres on different farms.
He is currently building his Blackface ewe numbers up to 1000 and the target is to eventually have 2000 Scotch Mule ewes as well. He bought his first 250 correct Blackie ewes at Dalmally last year and was impressed with their first lambing where they needed virtually no assistance and reared lambs bigger than themselves.
Billy said, The advantage of buying four or five crop, correct ewes from Dalmally is that I can build up my flock instantly and, lets face it, they didnt get to that stage in life without producing lambs every year so the genetics are already proven.
He plans to mark families with the same number to work out the best lines and most prolific ewes from which to keep Mule ewe lambs. He believes that once he has a couple of years under his belt managing the ewes he can increase the Blackface lambing percentage from 135% at scanning to around 150%.
Once the Scotch Mule flock starts to produce lambs to home-bred Texel tups, Billy expects them to scan at least 180%.
Billy said, The Blackface ewe is the foundation of my new flock, everything is bred from her so if it doesnt start well it wont end well. They get dosed for worms and fluke when they arrive and after a month on grass are ready for the tup.
He continued, I chose to buy ewes from Dalmally because they are not spoiled, they are hardy survivors and have reared a lamb every year in the worst conditions. I will go back to Dalmally in October for another 250 because they are good value for money and have given me decent lambs to the Bluefaced Leicester tup this year.
Their mothering ability was proven this spring when two days of horrific snow during lambing in April saw very few lambs lost.
Billy said, Just because she is a small ewe doesnt mean she cant give you big lambs. We wean at the end of July and the lambs were often bigger than their mum by then.
He weans early as he believes it has no detrimental impact on the lamb but is of huge benefit to the ewe, which can recover her body condition ready for tupping again in November.
The ultimate aim is to have Scotch Mule ewe lambs to sell, although he will have to keep most of them initially until the flock is established. Wether lambs will be finished alongside the Texel cross lambs, with most away off grass but the remainder finished on a rape/kale hybrid with brassicas through it. Billy has sown 65 acres of forage crop this year and plans to buy in some finishing lambs as well as using it for any poorer ewes which need it.
The Blackface ewes are split into multiples and singles, with singles getting no feeding but twins and triplets being fed home-grown beans and oats for six to eight weeks before lambing.
So far Billy cannot see any problems in buying Blackface ewes from Dalmally; they are economical to keep, low maintenance and provide a good return on money. In fact hes wondering why he didnt do it years ago!