We are at the forefront of providing the commercial sheep market improved maternal genetics. (See our Lleyn sheep for sale.)
My family and I are situated near the South coast of Devon between Dartmouth and Kingsbridge, in an area of Devon known as the South Hams, which is a derivative of the Anglo-Saxon for "a sheltered place". Unfortunately this does not apply to much of our ground , which is on the top of the hills close to the coast, and on wet winter days the rain comes in at ninety degrees. Luckily for us, the Lleyns breed is perfectly adapted to this area and the British climate (in particular the wetter and windier parts).
We have been farming, as a family, in this area, since 1980 when my father bought the nucleus of the farm. Land was added in the area when it became available and could be afforded. In 1986 I (Peregrine Aubrey) started to take the major responsibility for the farm, after finishing a degree in business studies, while my father(Robin) worked off the farm, earning enough money to buy more land. We started as a traditional mixed farm, common in this area, having both sheep and cattle, dabbling in some arable as the farm expanded.
We started keeping Lleyn sheep in 1997. Moving over from the North Country Mule because of all the risks associated with buying in breeding ewes on an annual basis.( Enzootic abortion, Sheep scab, Johne's disease, Maedi-visna, CLA, OPA, Worm resistance, Liver Fluke , just to name some of them). Also we found we were using smaller high confirmation Texel rams to put confirmation into a large rangy ewe to meet the ideal fat lamb specification and this was having a serious effect on efficiency. You do not want to keep many large ewes and a few smaller rams to produce the right carcass size and confirmation! Lleyns, as a self replacing flock (only buying in new rams as needed) were starting to be seen as one of the most profitable way forward when faced with the "Russian Roulette" of annual breeding ewe replacement, a product of the historically stratified sheep breeding industry. Buying a couple of rams from assured is of infinitely smaller bio-risk than purchasing hundreds of females and far cheaper, though more complex to manage. Rams do not carry abortion, they can be easily quarantine drenched and kept in isolation because of the small numbers, which makes it cheaper.
We were "doing" the sheep, beef and arable mixed farm system on the 375 acres when the headage and acreage based support system came to an end in 2005. This System has a lot going for it in terms of ground fertility and parasite reduction through cross grazing, but there are the capital inefficiencies associated with doing three enterprises coupled with the " jack of all trades master of none" that this business strategy inevitably produces on a relatively small scale family farm. We decided to specialize in sheep with reduced capital costs and the possibility of being a "master" of one production sector. Sheep were our natural inclination and this combined with the perceived natural international competitive advantage, that we thought this sector has over the beef industry, made it a natural choice.
We soon started to improve the quality of our record keeping. We were using a paper based system around this time with mixed mating, buying in different rams for each age group and culling out those individuals that gave problems at lambing time or had general health issues, such as bad feet. The absence of any cattle freed up a substantial shed which was converted into a lambing shed based on a TMR ( total mixed ration) feeding system and a highly efficiency design, knowing that this would be a significant asset in both the production as well as the breeding of sheep.
In 2009 when compulsory Electronic identification was on the horizon we took the plunge to start to computer records for each individual sheep in the flock, and single sire mate, so the parentage of each animal would be known in time. This was no small undertaking with a 1000 breeding ewes. After having evaluated various software packages in the preceding years, I found Border Software and their FarmIT 3000 program. There was a can do attitude which seemed to be lacking in the other software providers and a certain level of confidence, which gave me the assurance that my efforts to start a fully fledged breeding program could be met by effective data capture and analysis system. With the confidence to vastly accelerate my breeding program, we quickly decided to buy a Prattley auto drafter weigher with a Truetest XR3000 weigh head, to add to our arsenal of sheep technology. This allowed us to capture more data efficiently and sort ewes into tupping group, sift out cull ewes in the office and as a bonus, sort fat lambs on weight at a rate of up to 400 an hour.
In 2011 we started recording with Signet. This was the next inevitable forward step. I wanted to get a couple of years of back data under my belt to input at once, so we could hit the ground running. Signet is very important it allows a more sophisticated performance evaluation, as well as a cross flock evaluation where there is flock connectivity. This evaluation looks at all current and historic data for the individual, the offspring and the individual's parentage as far back as it is known, even if the data is recorded on other farms.
Signet figures and their Estimated breeding values (EBVs) are what allows us to select the best individuals for further breeding, and to buy rams from other Signet recorded flocks to bring unrelated bloodlines that will improve performance.
We now have the highest index stock rams in the performance recorded Lleyn breed. If you click here you will you will see that we have bred most of the top index ranked stock sires in the breed and have bred five out of the top ten stock sires in the recorded population. (The Signet Lleyn breeders list has 47 individuals on it at present). These results are far higher than any other Lleyn breeder Because we do not register our sheep with the breed society, all our best sheep are available for the commercial sheep farmer for their flock improvement.
This means that the best possible Lleyn sheep are available at the best possible price for the commercial sheep farmer. Performancelleyns.