We had a great farm walk on the shores of Belfast Lough outside Carrickfergus the other week courtesy of Edward Adamson and his son Stewart. 'We'll try anything once', has been the mindset of Edward and Stewart as they have built up the sheep enterprise over the years. For the last number of years they have been experimenting with alternative breeds of sheep. Ile de France have been part of the system for a while and Clun Forest and Lleyn make up the main commercial flock. But it was the arrival of the Dutch Spotted Sheep that has perhaps been the most successful breed diversification to date with a buoyant export market for the breed amongst small holders.
The visit coincided with the recent arrival of the latest experiment, 30 Swifter sheep, another dutch breed, but with a different market in mind. This time aimed at the commercial lamb producer, with a high prolificacy at 285% and capable of providing enough milk to rear all her lambs. The breed certainly looks an exciting prospect for the low-input lamb producer and we look forward to following how they get on.
However, the experimentation doesn't just sit with breed diversification but also in their pastures with a recent multi-species sward undersown beneath a kale crop looking in good heart and ready for grazing.
Labour is increasingly the pinch point for farm productivity and the father and son team are consistently figuring out ways to work smarter not harder. The latest investment in Clipex sheep handling system looks set to make inroads into time spent handling sheep, but perhaps more importantly when combined with the Tru-Test weigh scales is providing an enormous amount more data to drive more precision in animal health interventions to treat the right animal at the right time. With various veterinary medicines increasingly being shown to have detrimental impacts on soil biology, perhaps these handling systems will be the next 'big thing' after the latest craze for multi species swards has taken root...