15Harrison Ollie and Walton Sophie.jpgOllie Harrison

Ollie Harrison is farming with parents, Stephen and Kate, Aimshaugh, Leadgate, Alston    

  • 1,400 acres fell and in bye
  • 450 Swaledale ewes for breeding Mule for replacements and surplus sold
  • 400 Mules ewes crossed to Texel for finished lamb
  • 180 North Country Cheviots ewes crossed to Aberfield for replacements
  • 50 cow Highlander fold

There’s more to farming sheep than bonny faces, says Ollie Harrison who is focused on building a sustainable hill sheep enterprise for the future which means introducing major changes to his family’s traditional system. 

“We are trying to keep a sheep that is hardier and has a better carcase, one that has a lot more extra value because we want to build a flock for the future that makes more money especially if the current payments slow down,” he explains. “So we’ve invested in the Aberfield, a high performance composite developed by Innovis together with North Country Cheviot ewes to breed a viable replacement for the Mule which we’ve been breeding here for donkey’s years.

“We’ve never done anything so radical as this before, however I’ve never really got in to preparing Mules for sale - washing faces and clipping out. Trying to get a higher price for ewe lambs with bonny faces is crackers when remember what their real job is all about,” he says.

“Whilst it’s early days, I’m really pleased with how the Aberfield cross Cheviot lambs have performed this season, particularly since the weather has been so poor.  We are planning to keep the gimmers as replacements to put to a terminal sire – we’ve got a crop of good strong lambs and we’re finding the wethers are quick to finish; they look a bit smaller, however they are rock hard. The first reached 40kg at 12 weeks and were sold straight off their mothers which has never happened before, whilst the remainder are on course to finish to target weight within six months of age which for us is a major bonus since our Mule wethers usually have to be kept on until after Christmas.

“It’s going to make a big difference getting these wethers away so much earlier; it will free up more grass for the rest, they’re not going to need even a  hint of concentrate and there’ll be less doses and handling required.”

Ollie says he and his parents had talked for some time about introducing alternative genetics. “Why Aberfield? One of our neighbours suggested we gave it a go as a replacement for the Bluefaced Leicester. These tups are all performance recorded and I was really interested in their figures, and how they’ve been developed by Innovis to produce a heavier carcase and top quality lambs.

“We’d also discussed dam line and eventually agreed on North Country Cheviots. Buying in Swaledale gimmer replacements was getting horrendously expensive, particularly when the breed isn’t as hardy as it used be and we are spending money on feed to keep them going. Cheviots are hardy - they come from rough ground in the north of Scotland and they also have a better carcase, so a cull Cheviot is scheduled to be worth a lot more than a cull Swaledale. We went up to Lairg and came back with 180 gimmers and we’re planning to buy more this season.”

Whilst the Aberfield cross Cheviot gimmer lambs will be retained as replacements, in future Ollie plans to sell any surplus for breeding purposes. “Already we believe this cross will be in demand from other farmers seeking a better performing ewe whilst I’ll be able to sell the wethers as soon as possible off their mothers and achieve more income. I believe our Aberfield cross Cheviots have the potential to do the job.”

The Aberfield has the ability to produce better conformed crossbred lambs, and is selected for maternal attributes as well as growth and muscling, with lambing percentage of 180% from a relatively low cost base compared to traditional crossbreds 

If you are looking to buy an Aberfield Ram please contact us on: 01970 828 236

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Innovis Ltd, Peithyll, Capel Dewi. Aberystwyth, Wales, UK SY23 3HU.

Tel.: 01970 828236