Paul Coates is taking his traditionally-bred commercial ewe flock to the next level of production without increasing labour using new technology and principally home-grown feed.

Paul and his father Peter run a mixed enterprise at Barrock End, Armathwaite, near Carlisle, where pedigree Beef Shorthorns, predominantly North of England Mules and arable cropping complement each other to aid self-sufficiency. 

The 420-acre Barrock End runs up to 720 feet above sea level on the top of Barrock Fell. They rent a further 400 acres in a ring fence at Norde Vue, Armathwaite. 

The ground is used for grazing and for 400 acres of arable crops – wheat, barley, OSR, spring barley and some fodder crops with a grassland re-seed in the rotation every four or five years.

They aim to be as self-sufficient as possible with inputs and with labour and they are only helped with one self employed manfor lambing and the arable work. 

Prior to 2015 they finished crossbred cattle selling them deadweight to Woodhead Bros. The long established relationship with Woodheads, a subsidiary of the Morrison’s supermarket group, then presented the opportunity for them to take on a pedigree Beef Shorthorn herd.

The Barwood herd now runs to 250 head – 100 breeding females plus followers. Pedigree breeding bulls are sold each year and surplus heifers will be available for the first time this year.

Sheep numbers have gradually increased from a few hundred to 1,000 lambed this year, rising to 1,200 this autumn. They are 80% North of England Mules with Cheviot and Scotch Mules.

“We can manage that number ourselves employing one full time man who looks after the sheep and does other general farm work as well as self employed help at harvest time. We’re trying to run a mixed farm with different enterprises which complement each other and without having all our eggs in one basket,” said Paul.

“The sheep and cattle work well with our management on the 420 acres of owned and rented grazing ground. We use as much home grown feed as possible for the sheep and cattle fed through a TMR,” he added.

The arable cropping, which includes 180 acres of the rented land, grows oil seed rape and winter wheat which are sold, winter and spring barley and fodder beet – of which 60% and 50% respectively are also sold.

“We have run predominantly North of England Mules in the flock since we started, running the other crosses as a comparison. We prefer the Mules for profitability, efficiency and scale,” said Paul. “I don’t think there’s much extra work running 500 sheep compared with 100.  They are good mothers and they produce quantities of lambs. They are doing what they say on the packet!”

“The North of England Mule suits the system. They are easy to keep and they produce a lot of good quality, fast-growing lambs for the meat market, however, any with triplets we foster one onto a ewe with a single lamb.” 

The replacement Mules are bought through the ring at Penrith, Lazonby and Carlisle with up to 50% purchased as gimmer lambs and the remainder shearlings while flock numbers are being increased. Once flock numbers are established the aim is to buy 200 with 120 gimmer shearlings and the remainder lambs.

The Coates select ‘the better end of the middle’ pens on conformation and whether they have been vaccinated for enzootic abortion, toxoplasmosis as well as having had Heptavac P and Footvax vaccinations. Their preventative approach is aimed at reducing the use of antibiotics and time as well as ensuring the thriftiness of the flock 

Paul says they are more than happy with a lambing percentage of 120 from the gimmer lambs. The whole flock averages up to 195% with little mortality and 185% lambs sold.

The majority of the ewes are run with the Suffolk although Innovis rams Aberblack and Abermax are also used.

The first batch of the older ewes lamb inside from mid-February after housing depending on the weather for 10 days. The next batch of up to 400 ewes starts lambing in the first week of March with the gimmer lambs starting at the beginning of April.

A month prior to housing the ewes are either fed hay or they are grazed on stubble turnips. At housing they are fed a TMR according to age and condition with the triplet carrying ewes fed more protein and those with single lambs fed only haylage.

The daily TMR comprises 1.6kg clamp silage made off one cut a year, 0.5kg fodder beet, 430g alka grain, 150g molasses, 430g ewe meal (soya and minerals). The alka grain is alkalised home-grown barley.

The ewes and lambs are turned out after 24 hours after the lambs have had enough colostrum. The ewes are fed ewe rolls for two or three weeks although this amount is being gradually reduced from 35 tonne to 15 tonne this year as the ewes continue to be fed home-grown alkagrain. Last year 200 tonnes was alkalised. The lambs also have access to this and they are to creep fed.

The first lambs are sold at 42kg deadweight off their mothers in mid-June in batches of 80-120 lambs with 650 lambs being sold by the beginning of August this year. 

The majority of lambs kill out at around 50% and classify at R3L. Deadweight prices started this year at £4.80/kg and by the beginning of August were at £3.80. Last year the lambs averaged £87-£89 a head however, Paul expects the overall average this year to be around £80.

 The aim is to finish all lambs off the farm. Last October there were 240 mostly gimmer lambs remaining which were finished on stubble turnips by Christmas and cleared before lambing starts.

All lambs are sold as Paul says it would take more land and increase the fertiliser bill to breed replacements – and the current flock suits the farm and the system.

Depending on the year, cast ewe values when sold at an average of five years old can run at just £25-£35 less than the price of replacement shearlings.

Flock management has become more automated since last year when with the aid of a grant the Coates invested in a Shearwell stock recorder package which comprises electronic ear tag reading equipment and Te Pari Racewell HD3 handler which can weigh and draft automatically by weight or EID with data downloadable through a smart phone app.

Ewes and new-born lambs are tagged and lambs are weighed every month from six to eight weeks which helps with the selection of lambs for sale which are then also drawn by handling.

The ewes are run through from lambing until weaning and the system records of animal health treatment and individual breeding. Paul plans to batch his ewes into groups of 100 to run with the tup to monitor the rams’ breeding performance.