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 farm earning enough money to expand the business. 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 a desirable 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 is of infinitely smaller bio-risk than purchasing hundreds of females and far easier to manage. They do not carry abortion, they can be easily quarantine drenched and kept in isolation because of the small numbers, which also reflects in the associated costs.
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 an easy 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 major 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 record each individual sheep in the whole flock, and single sire mate so the parentage of each animal would be known in time. No mean feat 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, that an effective data capture and analysis system gave me, we quickly decided to buy a Prattley auto drafter weigher 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 complex level of in flock 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 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 breeding individuals. To buy rams from other Signet recorded flocks on prospective performance with a reasonable level of certainty. This has allowed us to pick up breeding momentum. The sheep are getting better every generation in terms of commercial performance indicators, which we are now seeing clearly on farm.
This has culminated in us winning the most improved Signet recorded Lleyn breeding flock in 2015. 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.
Our flock performance figures now exceed the best pedigree flocks. We believe our flock selection policy is far more onerous than it would be on a smaller breeding unit with any pedigree bias, and is based solely on a practical commercial driven ideology. We do not keep sheep around just because they look pretty and might sell for lots of money in this particular society sale; they have to perform for the commercial sheep farmer. This means that the best possible Lleyn sheep for sale and their all important genetics are available at the best possible price for the commercial sheep farmer. Performancelleyns.