Romney Sheep from New Zealand

Romney Marsh Sheep for sale - DNA recorded Romney ewes

High Country New Zealand Romney sheep are bred at Hill Farm, near Hay-on-Wye. The farm falls within the beautiful Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales and is situated at 1200ft.

Every Romney ewe in Hill Farm’s 300-strong flock of Romney Sheep has a Production Record. All our Romney sheep are DNA recorded, thus allowing a mob-mate system where the Sire and Dam parentage is traceable.

Philosophy
New Zealand Romney Sheep

Sheep farming in the UK is renowned for being an extremely challenging industry. In recent years sheep farmers have been faced with significant external pressures such as volatile lamb and wool prices, increasing feed, labour and vet/med costs and an increasingly unpredictable climate. If sheep farming is to remain a viable industry, we need to take a closer look at our farming systems and try to understand what is making money and what isn't. At the base of the system should be your choice of breed. A breed with the correct traits and the raw genetic potential which will deliver the maximum profit.

We believe that the route to success and profitability lies with breeding efficient animals. At the end of the day, efficiency is outputs minus inputs, and a profitable animal is not one that solely produces the most. It is the one that can produce as much as possible whilst using the least resources. In other words, yield is vanity, profit is sanity! Everything we select and breed for at High Country Romneys leads back to our overriding breeding goal: Efficiency!

The foundation of this philosophy

One of the most important aspects of this mode of thinking is the use of grass. Grass is the cheapest form of food and it is also the easiest to feed. Romneys are brilliant utilizers of grass. Firstly, they have a large rumen which can digest large amounts of grass to meet their metabolic needs during all times of the year. They are also designed to be very active grazers, being able to graze the entire field without being forced. This is very useful in situations where you are rotationally grazing and/ or feed budgeting grass to sheep. Our Romneys are around 65 Kgs in weight; smaller ewes have the advantage of requiring less food to maintain themselves, thus making them cheaper to keep and being able to run more ewes to the acre. Our main selection criteria used to construct efficient sheep:

Our Basis of selection

Our hard culling policy of removing anything that causes us too much work and anything which is underperforming and then carefully identifying superior animals using EBVs and performance data allows us to consistently produce rams capable of siring ewes which will survive in harsh environments with minimal intervention and continually rear lambs that get up and grow!

  • High weaning percentage
  • Growth rates
  • Maternal instincts
  • Worm resistance
  • Survivability
  • Meat yield
  • Longevity
  • Good wool
  • Structure
  • Ease of management
High weaning percentage

A high weaning percentage is an essential aspect to flock profitability. Our Romneys will wean at 160%, which is a result of a number of genetic attributes. The first being fertility. Our ewes will fall pregnant (virtually all in the first cycle) with no flushing at all. Flushing is a waste of winter feed and genetics should supply the fertility, not management. Our ewes will then consistently scan at 185%. Once lambs are on the ground the ewes will rely on their maternal instincts to look after and feed the lambs to prevent losses. The lambs also need to have an installed vigour to get up and suck. A lamb looses heat 4 times quicker to the ground than it does to the air. Therefore, having lambs that are born on their feet will automatically reduce lambing losses by a huge amount.

Growth rates

Conformation of prime lambs is thought to only contribute to 3% of flock profitability. This is by far overshadowed by growth rates (days to slaughter) which are thought to accumulate around 45% of flock profitability. In spring, lamb growth is largely attributed to level milk production, which is why our Romneys are designed to deliver a plentiful milk supply. Once our lambs start to be weaned onto grass, their feed conversion rate plays a vital role in achieving high growth rates. This determines how much grass is converted into meat. In the summer of 2014, our average growth rate across all our lambs was 300 grams/ day off grass alone.

Maternal instincts

Maternal instincts play a crucial role in both ewe efficiency and easy care management. Romneys are designed to lamb outside by themselves with minimal intervention. In spring 2014, all 300 stud ewes were lambed outside and we only had to assist 2% during birth. Lambing outside isn't for everyone, and if you do then you need to be pretty sure that your ewes are tough enough to do the job properly. We strongly believe our sheep are more than capable of handling our harsh Welsh climates during lambing time and delivering multiple lambs by themselves and start milking to ensure lambs get enough colostrum and then milk to survive and continue growing.

Worm resistance

For 19 years now, we have been selecting and testing our sheep to improve their worm resistance. We believe it is a fundamental component of our breeding ethos and our aim of breeding the best maternal flock in the country. So why do we feel it is so important? To start with, parasitic worms cost the British sheep industry a massive £84 million per annum in losses of production and the implementation of control measures. There are a host of issues that we as sheep farmers face in terms of parasitic worms and their control, such as:

  • Losses in production: Sheep carrying heavy worm burdens are often less productive. Worms can cause severe damage to the stomach and intestinal wall, making it harder for the sheep to absorb nutrients. The sheep will also have to divert huge amounts of energy and protein into repairing the damaged tissue.

  • Implementing control measures: It is essential for almost every sheep farmer in this country to have to implement a worm control strategy. This normally consists of using wormers to kill the worms, which is very costly in time and money.

  • Anthelmintic resistance: resistance to wormers is inevitable! No matter how good your system is at slowing down the onset of drench resistance, you cannot expect a drench to remain for ever at a 100% efficacy. It is known that some farmers in New Zealand and Australia have over exploited wormers and have not only found resistance to the three main classes of wormers but also to the latest classes that have only been released in the last few years. These farmers are now running out of options when considering control options, thus making productive sheep farming extremely difficult. Here in the UK, we can learn from their mistakes and consider other control options before it's too late.

  • Consumers demanding meat with less chemical residues in.

  • Climate change: In recent years our climate has been changing. Our warmer, wetter climates with fewer ground frosts has meant that worms are able to survive later into the winter and hatch earlier in the spring. Not only have sheep pastures seen a rise in the volume of parasites, but it's also seeing a rise in variety of parasites such as exotic species like the Haemonchus (barber poles) which is a blood sucking worm that is spreading throughout the UK and starting to cause significant damage in sheep flocks. Worm resistance is a genetic ability to isolate and kill worms. There are many benefits of this trait, but the main ones are that you are reducing the pasture contamination of worms which will be of benefit to all grazing sheep- even ones that are susceptible to worms. Having a reduced worm challenge will mean faster growth rates. Another is that you are reducing your reliance on wormers, thus preserving their effectiveness.

Worm resistance has a heritability of 30% which is similar to most productive traits that sheep farmers already breed for. This makes it a reasonably quick trait to establish in your flock. There is also evidence to suggest that the genetic variation for resistance is greater within bloodlines than between bloodlines. This would propose that once you start selecting resistant sires, it is easier to continue selecting sires from the same bloodlines to maximise your genetic gain. At Hill Farm, we have reduced our reliance on wormers down to 2 drenches per life time and adult sheep do not get drenched.

Survivability

Survivability is very important when you are breeding a low maintenance flock. At 1200 feet in the Welsh hills, the weather can get pretty cold and wet and we need a breed that can handle it. That is why we include survivability into our selection criteria to ensure our sheep can tolerate adverse conditions and continue doing their job. Having a better level of survivability also enables sheep to tolerate low feed supplies and higher health threats.

Meat yield

Although confirmation only contribute to 3% of flock profitability, we still believe meat yield is important and should be included with in our selection process. This helps us to make sure that our lambs that are going for slaughter are leaving the farm at R3L's

Longevity

Longevity is a key factor affecting the profitability of a flock. In a self-replacing flock with a high replacement rate, the cost of taking extra ewe lambs out of fat lamb stock and into replacements is a surprising amount. First you lose the initial sale of that fat lamb, then you have the cost of wintering the lambs on valuable winter feed that could be fed to ewes, plus any vet/med and labour costs. Whereas the net benefit of a one-year improvement in average flock age is £11.20 per year per ewe lambing. Further, the added advantage of having a low replacement rate in a self-replacing flock is that you are able to select fewer and therefore better performing ewe lambs. By selecting better performing replacements you will have a faster genetic gain when improving your flock.

Good wool

We strongly believe that if a sheep is going to the effort of using valuable energy to grow a fleece, then it might as well grow a fleece that is actually worth something. Even when wool prices were at their lowest, we have always managed to pay the cost of shearing. Now wool prices are better, it is time to start putting wool quality into your breeding criteria in order to gain that extra revenue for each sheep. Our Romneys will produce a heavy fleece with a long staple and a good crimp and lustre. With Romney wool being listed as one of the highest priced wools in the British Wool marketing Board schedule, there is no doubt that we can improve you wool cheque. At Hill Farm, we shear all our ewes twice a year (once in June, and once in late October) and all lambs in August.

Structure

Structural correctness is very important to us when breeding fit for purpose animals. Romneys are designed to have smaller heads with narrow shoulders and wide hips, to allow for easy lambing. An important structural feature to a Romney is their feet. Because lameness costs around £6 a ewe plus the irritation and stress on the farmer when having to catch and treat lame sheep, it's worthwhile breeding for resistance to feet problems. Neither does it take long to breed a good resistance to the main feet diseases. Selecting rams from flocks such as ourselves that record for lameness should be the first step taking to improving instances of lameness in your flock. The mouth of our sheep is another structural component worth noting, and a main reason why they live for so long. They typically have a broad jaw with good teeth that wear down slowly and evenly.

Ease of management

This easy care approach is the crux of our breeding program. This concept tries to ensure that sheep are performing at all stages of their life (even under challenging conditions) whilst using a minimal amount of resources. This not only make sense from an economic point of view, but it also makes sense in terms of making shepherding more enjoyable and offering you a better lifestyle. Or maybe you would prefer to run a larger flock with the same amount of resources.

This data is collated to provide each Romney lamb with an Estimated Breeding Value, giving a ranking for each trait, which when added together gives an overall ranking. The EBV’s of the Sire and Dam are automatically included in each lamb’s figures.