Charollais – the easiest breed to manage at Langside
Story by Patsy Hunter, Scottish Farmer
Sourcing easy managed, profitable breeding sheep may sound easy, but after the recent cold, wet spell, and the resultant loss of lambs, flockmasters could well be forced to rethink future terminal and maternal sire policies.
While bare-coated, white-faced sheep have been the order of the day for many over the years, such has been the horrendous April and early may weather, and result lack of grass, that many ewes have struggled to produce sufficient milk thereby increasing the risk of mastitis and other diseases in lambs.
Git it another six weeks or so when the weather improves and breathing difficulties and ‘couping’ can also become an issue.
For Lanarkshire farmer Russell, Langside, Kirkfieldbank, the answer very much lies in the under-rated continental Charollais sheep breed, which can be used as a terminal sire over many breeds and cross-breeds and also produces a good breeding commercial ewe.
“Charollais sheep are easier cared for and don’t have the problems associated with other breeds. They are great mothers with the majority of them lambing themselves and the lambs are up and ‘sooking’ in not time,” he said.
“They do have a reputation for being bare coated and headed, but the breed has changed beyond recognition over the past 25 years, and they have much more strength, cover on their heads and a denser coat now.”
“They can be lambed outside and they make a great cross for putting onto white-faced sheep, hoggs of any breed and Blackfaces because they are so easy lambed,” said Russell, who alongside his wife Margaret and their seven-year-old son, Matthew, farms in partnership with his parents, Alex and Grace Gray.
However, while the breed has never proved to be the most popular north of the border, Welsh hill farmers are huge fans of this big French breed, and Russell believes an increasing number of flock masters are now taking to the fast growing, easier managed attributes of cross-bred Charollais.
“There has been an unprecedented demand for pure Charollais females to breed to a Texel or Beltex for breeding cross-bred tups and females in recent years. We have a huge number of customers looking to buy ewe lambs and gimmers privately every year, when the resultant cross-bred tups can sell for £1000 or more and the females make great mothers.”
The family, who run pedigree flocks of Charollais, Suffolks and Texels alongside a registered dairy herd of 140 Ayrshire and Red and White Holsteins, also find the big continental breed is ideal for producing early lambs.
Sponged to lamb inside mid December, albeit running outside during the day depending on the weather, while their Suffolk ewes lamb at the end of the month, Charollais produce offspring, which can easily match the daily liveweight gains of the native blacks, with the first of the progeny away just before Easter, through United Auctions, Stirling to catch the early lamb market.
This year, the business sold 55 lambs – a mixture of pure Charollais and Suffolks – before Este to a top of £181 per head or a phenomenal 385 p per kg. This compares to the norm of 250-285 p and a previous high of £3/kg.
“We get Charollais lambs away quicker and off less feeding than Suffolks, too. You cannot even run the two breeds together as Charollais tend to nibble their feed and eat slower and less compared to Suffolks which are more like ‘hoovers.”
“Charollais also weight a lot heavier than they look. You can look at a Charollais lamb and be confident it will be 42043 kgs, but put it across the scales and it will read nearer 44-45kgs.”
Russell, who is the current Chairman of the Scottish Charollais region, added that the adult females don’t have the disease issues of other breeds either. While the Grays do see an occasional case of mastitis in the Charollais and Suffolk, there are few major outbreaks. “Charollais have a different teat structure compared to other breeds in that the holds of the teats are smaller which helps keeps the bugs out. It’s the same in dairy cows. Cows with big open holes in their teats are more susceptible to disease.”
Furthermore as a breed, they hold their condition better than other breeds, as Russell has found they will still put on fettle even when they are weaned onto bard ground in March.
The Russells also prefer to show the Charollais breed above their other breeds, and extremely successfully at that. Just six year ago, the couple took the Royal Highland Show by storm to win not only the breed’s champion and reserve honours, but also the interbreed individual and pairs competitions. Add to that numerous championships at local events and two supreme breed titles at the Great Yorkshire two out of three years exhibiting at Harrogate and the breed will always remain close to their hearts.
It was Russell who also instigated the introduction of the breed, some 27 years ago, with females purchased from Graham Reid, Netherallan and Austin Hyslop’s Logan Flock. It is however, a ewe lamb purchased at Ian Innes’ Tullochallum dispersal for 300 gns that has had the biggest influence on the flock, with all females tracing back to her.
Stock rams that have stamped their mark include Banwy Moonshine, along with Oakchurch Ozil, purchased at Worcester in 2012 and 2014, respectively, with the latter going onto secure the inter-breed sheep honours at the Highland Show champion in 2015 and breed a lot to top show females.
The family also bought a ram from Myfyr Evans Rhaeadr flock that has made his mark breeding shearling rams to average in excess of £1000 at Kelso.
With so many positive attributes to the Charollais there has to be a negative and ironically, it appears to be the opposite to what many perceive. Far from being too bare, they have wool in every corner so much so that shearers hate them purely because they are so big and they hold onto their wool, Russell added.
Top performing commercial flock value Charollais Tups
The new National Sheep Association Chairman, Dan Phipps heads up one of the top performing commercial flocks in the UK. The flock of just under 2,000 ewes, a mixture of home-bred Suffolk and Texel cross Mules and bought-in North Country Mules share their home at the world renowned Godophin Stud, just outside the Suffolk town of Newmarket. The global horse breeding and racing operation, owned by HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is set in 2,547 acres which is divided into 440 grass paddocks. A further 4,000 arable acres of Dalham Hall Estate and a further 1,200 acres at Moulton Paddocks of 1,200 acres completes the setup.
Dan has been head of the sheep enterprise for the past 15 years, when the decision was taken at Godolphin to own their own flock, rather than relying on flying flocks to manage the grassland. “The sheep flock will also run second to the horses and for this reason it is not always possible to take decisions you consider best for the flock; but the positive aspects of being on the stud soon put these small issues into perspective.”
The flock lambs in two groups; the first lambs come in mid January and run through until the end of February. A second smaller group is lambed in May. Any empty ewes from the first batch are moved to the May group.
Dan runs a mixture of ram breeds; Charollais, Texel, Suffolk and Charollais Beltex. Each have their part to play in the system. The Charollais rams go to the home-bred cross bred ewes, Suffolk and Texel. “These are always the first to be tupped, so the fast growth rate of the Charollais ensures these lambs are also first away to market.” The mules go to the Texel and Suffolk, in part to provide the replacement ewes for the flock. “We do have more problems with mastitis in the Texel cross ewes, so are trying to keep more Suffolk cross ewes back and also a few Charollais cross.”
The stud has sufficient shed space for lambing, so everything is lambed indoors and turned out after 48 hours. Ewes are fed fodder beet to supplement the feed value of grass and lambs have free access to creep pellets. Dan has no problems whatsoever with the hardiness of the Charollais cross lambs “we see absolutely no difference between the different breeds and all cope with any harsh weather. We select paddocks with good shelter at turn out.”
Flock management is spot on, with a well-planned timetable of treatments etc. “At five weeks of age all lambs are dosed to prevent coccidiosis, given a wormer, a vaccine for pasteurella and clostridial diseases and a blowfly treatment. We know this is unusual, but it’s a very small dose for the size of the lamb causing them no issues and providing fly cover for 21 weeks. This means we can be assured of no fly issues when drawing finished lambs.”
Dan explains that the stud hosts many high profile visitors and it is essential that all the stock look healthy, happy and well-cared for at all times. “We follow a regime of footrot vaccine; 2 doses for ewe lambs and then an annual booster thereafter. All ewe lambs also have a vaccination to protect them from enzootic and toxoplasmosis abortion.”
Dan’s annual trip to the Kelso Ram Sale was cut short in 2020. In past years he has purchased tups at the sale from the Artnagullion, Hekra and Hundalee flocks. In 2020 purchases were more local from Crogham and Fordham, including some very high index tups. All rams are fertility tested upon arrival on farm. “I was very pleased with the new group of tups, all were fertile. We ran 3 tups with one group of 240 ewes ran and all bar a handful were in-lamb early and scanned at 192%, the highest figure achieved this season.”
The Charollais tups will certainly continue to be a part of this fascinating sheep enterprise and maybe Dan will be convinced to keep back a few more Charollais cross ewe in the future.
By Elizabeth Barber
Running approximately 400 Herdwick ewes, some are kept pure to breed Herdwick rams, which Alan sells at breed sales. Other Herdwick ewes are put with Charollais; having previously used Texel rams but found the lambs went too fat. In addition, Alan prefers Charollais sired lambs for easy lambing and sharp lambs, eager to suck. Born outdoors early Spring, the lambs have plenty of cover.
North of England Chairman David Norman, Setmurthy, Cumbria, also uses Charollais rams on Herdwick ewes, lambing them outdoors throughout April – he has been putting Charollais on Herdwicks for over twenty two years – he likes the fact they are easy lambing and get up and go by themselves.
Grove Farm, South East Wales, AG & J Leonard recently sold some Charollais sired lambs to local butcher, Forest Meadow Meats, whom they work with to butcher their lamb and pork for meat boxes. The proprietor Helena Heaven took some photos of the process to show start to finish.
2 x 36 / 17.5
1 x 37 / 18
1 x 39 / 19
1 x 42 / 20
1 x 43.5 / 21
1 x 45 / 23
Introducing the farms involved in the Charollais X Welsh Project
The Howells family, Gelli Farm Port Talbot
Run 1,500 ewes over 1,000 acres ranging 850-1,850ft above sea level, with an average annual rain fall of over 100 inches. Sell direct and at livestock markets. They will be lambing ewes involved with the project both in and outdoors (twins indoors, singles outdoors) at the end of March. The ewes running with the two rams are South Wales Mountain Ewes. Farmed at the Gelli since 1940’s. Retain 420 ewe lambs each year; hoping for unrestricted trade to Europe after Brexit. Previously used SWMS rams, Charollais then Innovis; Glyn Coch rams on farm. Rams are holding very good condition and active. No problems with lameness; all ewe on FV system.
– Gelli scanned 164% only one empty: lambing complete, with big ‘cracking lambs’, lambed indoors, did need to assist some during lambing but overall very impressed.
Lorranie Howells and Lee Pritchard, Cwm Carno Farm, Rymney, Caerphilly
Running 1,000 sheep, mostly SWMS, BHC and SWMS X’s. Lorraine family has farmed there since 1920’s.Sell direct and at livestock markets. Lambing the end of March, some indoors and some outdoors, have said they will be lambing indoors for the project. The farm is from 1,000ft to 1,400ft, normally selling lambs between 14-18kg direct. Start selling at livestock markets in August and retain 300 ewe lambs a year, working on a basis of quality rather than quantity. In Lorraine’s words: “We would like to carry on farming. We hope a secure market can be found for our lambs. We need to find good markets for 14 kg lambs as well as the heavier lambs. We need to get more money for our wool. We are a typical family farm. I have taken a young farmer into partnership to secure his future and the future of the farm. We need new young blood to come into our industry”. Ram from Sant Andras; Lee likes his sharp attitude. They are involved with Cwm Farm Shop in Treorchy, supplying lamb and beef to the shop and at local markets including Chepstow . Ram has held condition throughout winter.
– Scanned 120%, with lambing complete, no problems, Lee commented he couldn’t tell he was lambing crossbred lambs until he checked the ewes number, as the lambs have imprinted from the ewes strongly wool coverage wise. Lambs will be reared off grass and hopefully ready to sell end of July/August.
William Roger Jones / Roland Joñes / Tecwyn Jones . Owen John Joñes / Ieuan Jones / Gareth Wyn Joñes / Robart Jones. Tyn Llwyfan Farm, Conwy
Family has farmed there for over 350 years, running 3,500/4,000 ewes. Mainly Welsh Mountain Hill ewes, variety of Welsh breeds and a few hundred Welsh X ewes in Angelsey. Sell at livestock markets and on the dead to Dunbia. Every year is different Hill flock hopefully is 110% wanting singles to turn on the mountains for the summer. Begin lambing in February and finish late April. Project ewes will be lambed outdoors at around 800ft, then released onto mountain up to 3,000ft. Previously used Suffolk and Border Leicester. Sell from 15/18kg, from May to December. Retain 900 to 1,000 ewe lambs a year. Brexit will be very challenging but we must sell our products better. Comments that the rams are the best example of the breed they have seen; three rams are from Huw Roberts, Bachymbyd.
– Scanned: 93 singles, 96 twins, 1 triplet lambing outdoors, still lambing, began lambing mid March. A few big singles that need assistance, Gareth very pleased with lambs get up and go, makes it easier for lambing twins outdoors that the twins are both getting up to suck. Was concerned pre-lambing regarding hardiness but very impressed with the lambs coping well with the rainy conditions. Commented how lively the lambs are compared to other breeds used on the farm. Gareth has said it is early days though and is waiting to see how the lambs go on and finish and how they kill out. Looking forward to seeing the marbling on the Char sired lambs. Says Charollais rams fit in well with his hands off approach to lambing, New Zealand style, develop system that’s easy-lambing and hands off, both the ewes and rams. The rams were out on top of the mountain all winter after tupping, brought down in march, one lame but no other problems to report, kept natural condition well and fat cover.
Bethan and Edmund Williams, Castell Lloyd.
Around 800ft-1,200ft above sea level. Previously has used Suffolks; 200 ewes total. The farm has diversified to survive; they work with adults with disabilities who are involved with helping on the farm, who come to the farm for the day. Bethan was attracted to the project as she hopes the easy-lambing trait will benefit the day-to-day pressures during lambing time. She had an awful experience lambing 2018 with the snow; she only has one barn for housing the sheep so physically couldn’t bring them all in, with snow drifts of 8ft. Rams from Linton Springs & Edstaston.
– 165% scanning rate with 8 empty ewes: began lambing mid March. Very impressed with the size of twins and triplets, has been able to keep triplets on some mums. Very impressed with the liveliness of the lambs compared to Suffolk sired lambs, therefore more confident in them being out on the hill, lost one to fox. Lambs not being fed any feed; will be grass-reared 100% and sold direct and in livestock markets. During the snow, the lambs were turned out at 2 days old. Bethan also had some Welsh Mules in lamb to the original Charollais ram and two Suffolk ewes, she did say that she lambed the Suffolk X Mules indoors as the coat much thinner coverage, she wouldn’t be confident in lambing them outdoors. But compared to using Suffolks rams on the crossbred and pure ewes, both breeds of lambs are growing at a much faster rate this year. Hasn’t had to assist in many of the ewes lambing, hasn’t had a problem with big lambs.
Howard Vicary, Ty Oakley
Renowned purebred SWMS breeder. Lambing 2000 ewes ewes. First time crossing his ewes in over ten years for this project; has 15 ewes with Bethan and 15 with Andrew. He’s the representative of their society on many boards. He’s very keen for the project and to promote it; he was the gentleman that arranged the first meeting with their society at his house to let me to pitch the project. Keen to enter some of the crossbred lambs for RWAS winter fair to promote combining the breeds.
– very pleased with survival rate, no losses so far, still lambing. Similar to Gareth, has a very hands off approach during lambing, out of 1,000 ewes lambed, only pulled 6. Breeds his ewes to lamb by themselves, if any need a hand they are marked to go. Strongly believes that the correct feeding balance creates easy lambing, and that if people are having problems with big lambs they are feeding the ewes too much. He is feeding his charollais X lambs as wants to get them finished as quick as possible as best as possible. After his first year in the project, Howard is keen to run more ewes with the Charollais rams this year, to increase the amount of lambs he can sell prior to the pure Welsh lambs finishing.
Andrew Edwards, Tyn Tyla, Nelson
Farming with his father, they have previously used Texel and Suffolk rams in addition to SWMS. Very passionate about carcass, Andrew competes at winter fairs with purebred and crossbred lambs. Supply direct. Struggle to get weight over 35kg. Ram from Linton Springs, he’s the shorter neck ram of the two from Tindalls. The ram has maintained condition and is still lively. Andrew hopes for a fair price after Brexit.
TynTyla: began lambing mid March, indoors and outdoors. He is happy with the lambs, says they are growing well with only a few lambs loses. He’s keen to see how both groups compare come selling.
By Emma Mellen