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A case study: Breeding to reduce costs at Easyrams

The Suffolk Breed winner of the EBLEX Improved Flock Awards for 2011 is the ‘Easyrams’ Flock, owned by Robyn and Philippa Hulme, and their sons James and Nick, who farm near Ellesmere in Shropshire. The flock has made rapid genetic improvement in the last 12 months, using the CT scanner to identify superior genetics within the flock and making wide use of elite homebred sires.

Suffolk lambs Robyn HulmeThe Crosemanor Suffolk Flock was established in 1952 by Mr Hulme’s late father, Stan Hulme, and has been recorded with Signet since 1977. However, recently the focus for the breeding programme has changed significantly. The original flock was sold in 2005/2006 and replaced with 100% pure New Zealand Suffolk genetics.

New Zealand Genetics
The first embryos were imported from Bruce Rapley’s ‘Goldstream’ Suffolk Flock – the highest Index flock in the country. New Zealand was selected as the source of genetics due to their forage-based sheep systems, which require low labour input and deliver profit without any subsidies.

“The UK sheep industry has to reduce its costs,” says Mr Hulme. “We can’t do anything about what happens outside the farm gate, but we can breed rams that will improve the efficiency and profitability of our customers’ businesses.”

Suffolk lambs 2 Robyn HulmeRams are only sold off the farm (108 in 2010), and three quarters go to work as terminal sires on farms where ewes lamb outdoors. At home, less than 5% of the ewes have assisted lambings or require help with suckling, with overall lambing percentages at 180-185%. Lambs are never creep fed and are reared on milk and grass, making significant savings in concentrate costs.

Ram selection
For the past two years the main driver for ram selection has been improved conformation, and CT scanning is used extensively to identify future sires that confer the highest meat yields. Tools such as Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are also important for selecting traits such as growth rates.

“I believe that it is our job to understand what customers want, and then strive to produce rams to suit their systems, that will earn them money by significantly lowering the costs of production,” says Mr Hulme.

“The rams we sell are fed no concentrates – so they may not be as big as other Suffolks – but when they get back on farm, they live longer, and are efficient and effective workers – with ram lambs serving 1:80 and shearling rams 1:150.”

Satisfied customers
Farmers Weekly ‘Farmer of the Year’ John Hoskin has bought rams from the Hulmes for two years, attracted by their high genetic merit, easy lambing traits and the high ram to ewe ratio.

“We only buy top 10% Signet recorded rams to serve our 1350 Suffolk/Mule and Mule ewes,” says John Hoskin.

“I am also looking for ewes that simply need overseeing when lambing outdoors, rather than assisting, and for the crossbred lambs to have good early vigour and a natural ability to grow on milk and grass alone. The Hulme’s rams deliver on all these aspects, which helps keep my sheep enterprise in profit.”

Organised through the Sheep Better Returns Programme (BRP), this award is presented to the performance recorded flock that has shown the most impressive improvement in genetic merit over a 12-month period, within the breed.

Gene markers on test on Suffolk sheep – 09/07/2007 – FarmersWeekly

Gene markers on test on Suffolk sheep
09/07/2007 00:00:00
Suffolk sheep breeders will be some of the first in the UK to benefit from gene markers developed in New Zealand for footrot tolerance and cold survival.

Speaking via a phone link at the Royal Show, Jon Hickford, of Lincoln University, New Zealand, told a briefing that by selecting for footrot tolerance it was possible to greatly reduce the time and money spent controlling and treating foot-rot, particularly vaccination and foot bathing chemical costs.

“New Zealand’s experience suggests savings of about £2 a head could be made. The New Zealand wool industry is predicted to make savings of about NZ$24m (£9m) in the next 10 years.”

Dr Hickford said the cold survival gene marker could identify sheep with vigour and those with the ability to thrive from birth. “Lambs are ranked on three scores – A, B and C – and the idea is to avoid breeding from animals scoring C, rather than forcefully breeding towards sheep scoring A and B.

suffolk- sheep 2

“A sheep with a C score is four times more likely to die of cold at birth than one scoring A,” he said. The test is linked to brown fat mobilisation at birth, as lambs who mobilise brown fat quicker are faster to get up and suck and thus have increased survival rates.

Suffolk Sheep Society commercial director Robyn Hulme said it was important for the breed to be at the forefront of such developments and ensure commercial ram buyers were given the chance to buy rams best equipped for their situations.

But MLC sheep and beef scientist Duncan Pullar said that, while the tests looked promising, it was essential to validate them under UK conditions before they were roled out on a wider scale.

Gene markers on test on Suffolk sheep – 09/07/2007 – FarmersWeekly

Afgeblazen: World Suffolk tour of New Zealand 2009

Onderstaand bericht ontving ik vandaag over het World Suffolk Congress. Het evenement gaat niet door hlaas. Het wordt nu samengevoegd met het Wrld Sheep and Wool Congress in Australie in 2010.

Dear Patrick
Thank you for registering an interest in joining the planned World Suffolk tour of New Zealand in October/November 2009.
Although there were several people who registered an interest in attending, it is with much regret that a decision has been made not to proceed with the tour.
As you may be aware, the World Sheep and Wool Congress will take place in Sydney in April 2010. The NZ Sheep Breeders Association felt this event would have an impact on the numbers attending the World Suffolk Tour and instead, have chosen to work with the Congress organisers in offering a pre Conference technical tour of New Zealand. This tour will include visits to Suffolk breeders in both Islands.
We will keep you informed of arrangements once more details are known.
I apologise for any inconvenience, but hope to meet you in 2010.
Arthur BlakelyOrganising Committee

Suffolk trials show easier care potential

Suffolk trials show easier care potential
07/05/2008 14:00:00

Early results from a trial comparing the performance of the progeny of 10 Suffolk rams indicate significant potential for cutting costs by using easier care traits.

The work has also demonstrated that breeders do not need to turn to New Zealand to get hold of the genetics they need.

Three groups of lambs sired by New Zealand-bred tups imported as embryos, high index rams and traditional tups selected on eye were bred at Morfa Mawr, Ceredigion, out of 506 mixed-aged Mule ewes.

Technical help was provided by the breeding company Innovis to collect semen to artificially inseminate the ewes, which were heat-synchronised. The aim was to ensure all the different types of Mules in the flock were matched to the different sire groups.

Seventy-five per cent conceived and the ewes scanned at 1.93 lambs/ewe. In early February, 99% of 702 lambs were born alive.

Janet Roden, who supervised the work, told breeders who attended a flock inspection on the trial farm, owned by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth, that ewes received identical post-insemination treatment.

Blind performance monitoring

In fact, eartag records were locked away so there was “truly blind” performance monitoring. Even she did not know which lambs had been sired by the different tups until shortly before the inspection was staged.

When the Abersystwyth University research associate presented lambing and pre-weaning results, she said the greatest variation was found within populations of lambs born to the different types of sire rather than between populations.

Only 2.3% of lambs were lost within the first 48 hours after parturition, with no differences in survival rate between lambs sired by the different sire groups.

The average birth weights were 6.1kg for singles and 5kg for twins. Lambs sired by the four New Zealand rams were marginally lighter at birth and presented fewer lambing problems.

Monitors recorded the level of help ewes needed, on a scale ranging from none to “call the vet”. Overall, only 6% of lambs required assistance to start suckling and most of these were triplets.

Individual and groups of sires

Lamb vigour was assessed and it was found that variation – judged by the ability to stand up and suckle – was greater between individual sires than between groups of sires.

At eight weeks, the heaviest lamb weighed 34kg, singles averaged 26kg and twins 21kg. Those out of UK high-index rams averaged 21.6kg, those sired by traditional Suffolks 20.7kg, while New Zealand-sired lambs averaged 20.0kg.

All the progeny were also assessed for dagginess on a scale of 1 to 4. While 15% of the New Zealand-sired lambs were dirtier than Dr Roden would like, they were slightly less daggy than the 25% in the two other sire groups, though one traditional tup was ranked second overall for cleanliness.

An attempt will be made, using faecal egg counting, to assess the link between dirtiness and variation in worm resistance between the 10 sires.

A full breakdown of variations in lambing ease, early vigour and weight gains will be published when Dr Roden has details of time to slaughter, carcass weights and lamb grades. The aim is to get lambs that classify 3L without using any creep feed.

“The initial results have revealed considerable variation in the easy care attributes of lambs sired by different rams that breeders can exploit,” said Dr Roden.

Immediate labour and cost reduction

Robyn Hulme, Suffolk Society commercial director, agreed and claimed commercial producers could gain immediate labour and cost reduction advantages by sourcing rams recorded for easy-care traits.

“An increasing number of Suffolk breeders are now concentrating on selection policies emphasising minimum labour input. Over 250 members are recording lambing ease and lamb vigour.”

The trial proved beyond doubt the importance and advantages of recording, which had been society policy for a number of years.

Prys Morgan, industry development manager at Hybu Cig Cymru, which sponsored the trial, claimed the results showed how breeders could use performance recorded stock to meet their individual farm requirements.

The final report, including detailed costings, would appear on the HCC website later in the year.

CAP: Lambs by high index UK Suffolk tups had the highest eight week weights, while those by New Zealand bred sires were less daggy, said Janet Roden.

by Robert Davies (About this Author)

Suffolk trials show easier care potential

Grass fed NZ Suffolk x lambs in Shropshire

Commercial Sheep Farmers have a unique opportunity to look at more profitable sheep production when the UK’s first New Zealand Suffolk Sheep open day takes place in Shropshire on Saturday 12th July.
Host Robyn Hulme explains that the family ‘ram breeding’ business is based solely on providing commercial sheep farmers with the appropriate tools to enable them to reduce their production costs and to increase their profits.
Robyn explains: “The removal of all subsidies in New Zealand over 20 years ago meant that the
Grass fed NZ Suffolk x lambs in Shropshire
current difficulties of UK sheep farmers have already been explained by NZ farmers who were forced to breed sheep that required minimum labour input and had maximum disease resistance. Today in NZ one person is able to look after a minimum of 3000 ewes and their lambs.
“By importing NZ Suffolk genetics and copying their grass/forage/no concentrate management system we can offer British flock masters all the benefits of long living, highly fertile rams who produce easily born lambs that will finish off grass with minimum labour input. This has enabled us to create the ‘easyram’ concept accompanied by full records and performance guarantees.”
Speakers at the Pikesend Farm, Ellesmere, event, will include:
English born ROSEMARY HAMILTON, who, with her NZ husband, has been running 6,500 ewes on the South Island.
ROBIN FAGAN is also a NZ farmer who also owns NZ’s leading sheep and cattle handling equipment – Racewell.
Signets general manager SIMON BOON
Sheep veterinary specialist HARRIET FULLER.
Innovis will demonstrate Genemarker Technology and North Wales

Ram performance trial compares New Zealand and UK genetics

Livestock | 9 May, 2008

SUFFOLK sheep breeders from across the UK visited a West Wales coastal farm to hear the initial findings from a ram performance trial comparing New Zealand and UK genetics.

The large-scale trial, which is still on-going, was set up to find if there was anything to be gained from using Suffolk rams with New Zealand genetics, and supposedly carrying easier care attributes, in UK commercial crossbred flocks – but so far little variation between the two has been found.

The comparison trial is being carried out at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences’ Morfa Mawr Farm, Aberaeron, funded by HCC, Innovis and the Suffolk Sheep Society.

Dr Janet Roden

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Dr Janet Roden, Aberystwyth University researcher, who runs the project.

Progeny from the 506 mixed age Welsh Mule ewes (ran as a commercial enterprise finishing lambs off grass without concentrates) are being compared not only on growth and carcase quality but also the level of shepherding required.

In all, 10 rams have been used – four New Zealand Suffolks, three high index UK Suffolks and three ‘traditional’ UK type Suffolks – on three identically matched groups of ewes inseminated on-farm in September.

On average the ewes scanned at 1.93 lambs per ewe inseminated and, at lambing in February, the ease of lambing, lamb vigour, ability to suck unaided, birth weights and losses were recorded for all the 702 lambs born. Ewes and lambs were turned out 24 hours after lambing and no creep has been provided.

The biggest different found so far (see panel) is that lambs sired by the New Zealand Suffolks had slightly lower birth weights and consequently required less assistance at birth than those sired by the high index UK sires.

“The lambing results have revealed some variation in the easy care attributes of lambs sired by different rams,” said Dr Janet Roden, the Aberystwyth University researcher running the project.

Further information will become available over the coming months on the general ease of management and slaughter data.

Full carcase analysis will also be carried out on all the lambs and a final report bringing together all aspects of the trial published later in the year.

“The lambing and pre-weaning results so far show there are some slight differences between the different types of Suffolk,” said Dr Roden.

“Perhaps most importantly there is a great deal of variation within all the populations – confirming the importance to commercial producers of always using the best information available to choose the best ram.”

Initial data from the trial

• Around 99 per cent of all lambs were born alive with only 2.3 per cent lost within the first 48 hours of life.

• New Zealand lambs tended to be lighter at birth and, therefore, had the highest percentage of easy lambing.

• Incorrect lamb presentation at birth gave rise to 80 per cent of the lambing assistance required.

• Some 97 per cent of singles and twin lambs overall sucked without assistance with those that did mainly being triplets.

• The variation between individual sires for vigour – judged on the ability to stand up – and to suckle was far greater than the variation between groups of sires.

• Average birth weights were 6.1kg for singles and 5kg for twins. At eight weeks singles were up to 26kg while twins were 21kg.

• There was little difference in the averages between the groups with the UK high index-sired lambs being marginally higher at 21.6kg. The UK traditional Suffolks were 20.7kg and the New Zealand Suffolks were 20.6kg.

• At eight weeks of age the lambs sired by both UK Suffolk groups were slightly heavier than lambs sired by New Zealand Suffolks.

• Lambs sired by the New Zealand Suffolks were slightly less daggy (15 per cent compared to 20-25 per cent for the UK-sired lambs) with one of the traditional Suffolk rams ranking second overall on cleanliness.

Introducing New Zealand Suffolk genetics for the commercial market

Livestock | 11 April, 2008

The Hulme family has long been associated with pedigree Suffolks, having years of success at shows and sales with its Crosemanor flock. But a switch in focus means that is no longer the priority – in fact, having imported genetics from New Zealand, they could not be moving further away from their traditional bloodlines. JOANNE PUGH found out more.

Having spent decades building a reputation for producing and selling pedigree Suffolks, it may come as a shock to many that the Hulme family has completely changed its breeding goals.

Nick, Robyn and James

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Nick, Robyn and James Hulme.

Gone are the days of producing the type of Suffolks that brought them so much success in showring over the years – instead the focus is working with genetics that will ‘do a job for the commercial producer’.

With the number of commercial farmers buying Crosemanor stock dropping significantly from the late 1990s, that is something the family feels it had been failing to do before.

Things started out well in 1952 when the late Stanley Hulme established the Crosemanor flock in the village of Cockshutt, Ellesmere, Shropshire, and gained momentum when son Robyn joined the business in 1977.

Successes at national shows and Suffolk Sheep Society events mounted up with home-bred Crosemanor Commandeur (sold in 1997 for 26,000gns) and part-owned Pankymoor Prelude having a significant impact on Suffolk breeding throughout the UK.

But by 2000, Robyn had begun to worry about the ‘tail off’ in commercial customers and if the business could survive in the future with two sons James (now 25) and Nick (18) both keen to come on board.

Pure New Zealand Suffolk lambs

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Pure New Zealand Suffolk lambs, imported from New Zealand as embryos and transferred into mainly Welsh Mule recipients.

Spending time with a New Zealand Suffolk breeder visiting the UK proved to be the turning point and, following a three-week trip to the Southern Hemisphere, Robyn decided to make a departure from pure UK genetics and start blending them with NZ Suffolks instead, importing NZ embryos and semen from 2006.

This may appear to be in conflict with Robyn’s long association with the Suffolk Sheep Society, having served as chairman and just finishing a term as commercial director.

But, he argued, he and his sons were putting into practice what the society had long been urging its members to do – produce stock to meet the needs of commercial farmers.

They want to emulate a New Zealand-style breeding company, producing rams with the sole aim of improving the profitability of the commercial guys who buy them, be it through increased meat yield and/or reduced inputs and labour.

While functional traits such as good feet and legs would still be high up the agenda, cosmetic traits would no longer be important, as nothing would be sold through a showring but privately off the farm with customers having access to detailed performance data.

“Call it what you want – a road to Damascus revelation or poacher turned game keeper – but I believe I’ve seen the light,” said Robyn.

“It’s a no-brainer and I’m not sure why I didn’t see it sooner. It’s a sustainable future and that’s why everything is now in the names of James and Nick and not me.”

Reflecting on where he had come from, Robyn said he was proud of what the Suffolk Sheep Society had achieved in recent years, embracing ‘big, big’ changes and encouraging the use of new tools like performance recording and gene markers.

He said his involvement with both the society and BASCO had been invaluable in termsof being able to meet the knowledgeable people that such organisations brought together.


Credit: © FARMERS GUARDIAN please contact 01772 799445.

The Hulme family still have a massive affection for ‘proper’ Suffolks, with James and Nick running a small pure-bred flock as a ‘hobby’ with the hope of one day achieving what neither their father or grandfather did – winning the Suffolk Sheep Society show and sale at Edinburgh.

“We still like proper Suffolks and, if I’m honest, we still like winning shows,” said Robyn, describing it as an ‘enormous pleasure’ and ‘real buzz’.

But those show Suffolks – bred for width, bone and blocky confirmation – could not be more different from the New Zealand Suffolks the Hulme family is now so taken with.

Robyn described them as ‘functional’ and ‘wedge shaped’ with CT scanning showing lots of meat in the back-end, despite initial visual appraisals perhaps suggesting otherwise.

This wedge also meant a wide pelvis, ideal for lambing ease, aided by finer boning in the head, shoulders and legs.

He said they had been drawn to them because the New Zealand sheep’s development, in contrast to that of their UK ancestors, had been driven by a desire to reduce costs. This was immediately applicable to the UK, where too many sheep farmers were currently making a loss, he said.

The New Zealand breeders had, and were continuing to concentrate on, labour-intensive traits, such as worm resistance/resilience and lameness/footrot.

The Hulme family planned to continue this within their developing flock, performance recording ‘everything’ from lambing ease and suckling speed to dirty back ends and cold tolerance.


Credit: © FARMERS GUARDIAN please contact 01772 799445.

Lambing is done indoors with newborns turned out after a couple of days.

They were also great believers in gene markers, using all the tests available to them.

There were plans to start running a commercial flock – probably based on Lleyns – in the autumn to further test their Suffolk rams in ‘real life’ situations.

With so much enthusiasm, the real problem for the family is lack of numbers – but this is set to change with additional UK-bred pedigree Suffolks bought in last year, 200-head lambed in the last three months and plans are in place to increase to 500 breeding ewes by 2011.

The 700-acre mixed farm would then see the area of grassland increase from its current 150 acres. But the whole point of the NZ Suffolks was that no more staff would be needed other than the three already working full-time on the farm – James, one shepherd and one general farmworker – plus Nick, once he has finished college.

In early 2007, 30 NZ Suffolk ET lambs were born at Pikesend Farm, although to everyone’s disappointment only 10 were female. Imported semen was also used on UK Suffolks to produce 10 half-and-half lambs.

This February, 60 ETs were born (30 female), reared by Welsh Mules recipients in the main. Aside from the ‘show team’, which lambed in January, everything else lambed in late March, having been inseminated with NZ-imported semen or served by home-bred NZ ram lambs.

Already 150 NZ embryos have been secured for implanting later in the year and there are plans to flush some
home-bred NZ ewe lambs. This, said the Hulmes, would not only increase numbers (especially as fresh embryos tended to hold better than frozen imports) but also form part of the future selection criteria and speed up genetic improvement.

All stock would continue to be ‘graded up’ using NZ genetics with no clear plan yet of whether to stop at three-quarter NZ or to keep going.

Robyn said such a decision was not top of their list of priorities, as when breeding for the commercial market it did not matter about cosmetic appearance or family histories – just hard performance data.

This was also his justification for using the ‘myomax’ gene marker. This identified a gene linked to higher meat yields – but it was not naturally found in Suffolks and so Texels, which did tend to carry the gene, had been used some years ago to introduce it into NZ Suffolk bloodlines.

Robyn said some breeders were against this idea of seven-eighth Suffolks being considered as pure-bred, but it did not bother him if it meant he could exploit genetics further to produce an even better product. Therefore, all the semen bought this year had two copies of the myomax gene.

English Suffolk

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A pedigree English Suffolk dam with her week-old lamb sired by a New Zealand Suffolk ram.

“Rams are just a production tool – no different to fertiliser – and we should treat them as such, thinking of them purely as tools,” he said.

Looking forward, the Hulmes said they were looking forward to selling large numbers of home-bred NZ Suffolk rams.

The intention had been to sell them as shearlings but demand for working ram lambs had meant a change of plan. Tests on their ram lambs had proven them to be fully fertile by 19 weeks of age.

Robyn said they would be able to serve 150 ewes as shearlings and, he believed, would live for longer (working for up to five seasons), further reducing input costs for those who purchased them.

They would not feed creep to any of their rams, believing heavy concentrate use reduced fertility and led to a shorter working life.

On the subject of feeding concentrates to pedigree rams, Robyn said it was something that ‘ticked him off’ because commercial farmers criticised it but then always bought the biggest rams at sales.

Therefore, pedigree breeders inevitably fed concentrates in order to gain size and compete against each other.

That was why he was pleased by the thought that the family would never sell their NZ Suffolks through a sale ring or make them ‘compete in a beauty parade’.

Some of the 2007-born ET rams were sold last August with early reports from a selection of pedigree, commercial, outdoor and indoor-lambing enterprises looking very promising.

“There’s a lot of them out there and we’re getting good feedback,” said Robyn. “The whole job is really exciting from where I’m sitting and it’s going to be so much fun for us all.

“We passionately believe in what we’re doing – it’s good for our customers and good for the bank balance. I think that’s why I’m now concentrating more on the next 20 years than the previous 20.”

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Farmers Guardian – Easy care is the way forward at Buccleuch

Easy care is the way forward at Buccleuch
Livestock – FG 11 January, 2008

New Zealand sheep breeding technology has combined with easy care sheep management in the Scottish borders to market breeding stock and to play a key part in an integrated programme supplying new season lamb to a major UK retailer. NEIL RYDER found out more on a visit to Selkirk.
When a Scottish-based farming company started looking at moving toward an easy care sheep system there was little thought of an international link-up geared to supplying a major retailer with new season lamb 52 weeks of the year.

The next stage for Buccleuch is the introduction of Primera tups for use on the Highlander cross dams. Primera are also being tried experimentally on 40-50 Charollais ewes to see if there is potential for exploiting the easy lambing characteristic of the Charollais and to enhance the carcase quality of the finished lambs.

At Buccleuch the Primera is being used on Highlander ewe lambs, which will then be put back to the Highlander next year to produce females as breeding stock. Meanwhile, putting cross bred breeding ewes back to the Highlander will lead to upgrading to a pure commercial Highlander flock.
Under the revised system ewes are housed from February as before, but, as long as conditions allow, are turned out to lamb with as little assistance as possible.

Mr Doig said: “M&S policy is to have new season lamb on their shelves 52 weeks of the year, but it is clear that this could not be achieved from British lamb alone. Their team talked to New Zealand producers and liked the product from the Primera tup on the Highlander dam.

The Primera is a terminal meat sire based on Suffolk, Poll Dorset, and Australian White Suffolk bloodlines.
“They also found that their requirement of some 350,000 lambs over a six month period could be supplied by about 100 New Zealand farmers. The aim is to match this for the other six months from UK farmers using the same breeding system to give them a consistent product
“In New Zealand the explosion in dairying on the lower ground has tended to push sheep production more and more on to the higher ground where conditions can be similar to areas such as the Scottish Borders and Cumbria’s Lake District.

“New Zealand systems have for a long time naturally selected for ease of management. This is taken further by some farmers, including the Rissington nucleus flocks, which operate completely commercial un-shepherded lambing systems and rely on DNA parentage testing to identify sire and dam for selection purposes.

“In spite of this the main Highlander nucleus flock of 3,500 ewes achieved 177 per cent lambing last year. This type of system would not transfer easily to the UK as it stands, but does mean New Zealand breeding is well matched to UK easy care systems.
“The only other key difference is that in New Zealand sheep are fed grass only, whereas in the UK some additional feeding, including concentrates, is widely used.

Farmers Guardian – Easy care is the way forward at Buccleuch

Bezoek de site van de fokkers van de Primera: