Countdown on to Charollais Sheep Society Carlisle highlight

The British Charollais Sheep Society is looking forward with great anticipation to one of its annual highlights, the high profile pedigree show and sale of accredited rams and empty females at Borderway Mart, Carlisle, on Friday, August 26.

Entries have now closed and a solid turnout is on the cards, with 25 shearling or aged rams, up to 30 ram lambs, 18 empty ewes or shearlings – these are mainly sold in twos or threes and are of particular interest for cross-breeding – and four ewe lambs.

The 2015 Charollais showcase saw 16 shearling rams sold at an overall average of almost £460 per head, while 13 ram lambs averaged over £335. Breed stalwart Charles Marwood, of the Foulrice flock near York, led the way at 640gns with a home-bred shearling ram, while his daughter Deborah Whitcher, who runs the Galtres flock in the same area, was supreme champion with a shearling ram sold for 500gns.

Ram lamb prices peaked at 600gns for a brace of entries from local breeders D&J Norman, of Kirkhouse, Cockermouth.

All three principals will again be represented at the 2016 renewal, which has attracted 12 consignors in total, eight from the Northern region, along with four Scottish entries.

This year’s pre-sale show has a local adjudicator in Robert Wilson, of Streethead Farm, Ivegill who is making his debut in the Charollais judging area, though the family – he farms with his father and mother John and Jeanette, and brother Euan – remain true champions of the Charollais breed.

They have been successfully using Charolais rams as terminal sires since 2000, running them with a flock of 300 Mule and Texel-x-Mule ewes, producing over 500 prime lambs

Robert, 37, explains: “We usually buy two or three rams a year, mostly from another local breeder Jonathan Wales, of Thackwood Farm, Raughton Head. They have always done the job for us and suit us well. They just seem to click onto our Mules. We get very few bare-skinned lambs.”

“All our lambs go direct to St Merrion Foods in Wales and then on to Tesco. We are selling them between 19kg and 23kg and quality is obviously key. We are probably heading more towards Texel-crosses because we get more E and U grades from these – and more value.

“The flock policy is to buy 40 2-shear Mules every year. Our Charollais tups go in for the first cycle, followed by our Texel ram – we have just one – which is used to breed replacement Texel-x ewe lambs. We start lambing Texel-x on February 20 and Mules from March 1.  We will usually have our first creep-fed lambs ready from 12 weeks of age from around the third week in May.

“Our policy is to sell deadweight because of the simple fact that while Charollais-cross lambs haven’t hit the top prices that some breeds reach in the live market they consistently achieve their price potential on the deadweight grid.

“It is also far more convenient for us to sell deadweight. We have a collection centre just down the road, where I can send batches to suit our working day. I’m really happy with the grades they achieve. I can also call in advance and find out exactly how much they are going to be price-wise. We also run a dairy herd and this flexible arrangement fits in well with our milking patterns.”

While the Wilsons are one if the few farmers in their area to use Charollais rams as terminal sires, they remain convinced of the qualities of the Charollais and are keen to promote the breed both near and far.

Robert explains: “It’s a well-known fact that they are easy lambing and the lambs are plenty lively enough when they are born. I also continue to be amazed at how they weigh. It’s hard to believe the numbers when they go on the scales.

“While well aware that some farmers were put off 10 -15 years ago by using the wrong type of Charollais tup, I’m really surprised that more are not using them as terminal sires these days. The breed has improved dramatically and maybe more farmers will be willing to have another go. I’m confident they would be extremely pleased with the results.”

Following the Carlisle show – an online catalogue can be downloaded at www.harrisonandhetherington.co.uk – the British Charollais Sheep Society will turn its attention to its 23rd pedigree ram show and sale at Skipton Auction Mart in North Yorkshire.