"The Lleyn is the modern sheep that lends itself to the single farm payment because she is such an easy care breed," said Willie Davidson, who farms with his wife Jennifer and their son Alisdair.
The demand for Lleyn sheep has soared over the past two or three years, and,with the new CAP reforms favouring low input systems, an increasing number of flockmasters will undoubtedly be looking to this Welsh female breed toboost farm incomes.
At present, numbers of this extremely productive commercial ewe are stillrelatively low in Scotland.
The Davidson family from Poldean, Moffat are breed enthusiasts, "We wanted a simple system with reduced input costs where we can keep replacement females and sell remaining females at a premium and the Lleyn has allowed us to do just that. Because the Lleyn is smaller framed, she only eats a fraction of the amount of concentrate feeding a Mule eats, yet she is still produces the same amount of lambs as a Mule." And, being a female breed, the Davidsons are convinced their Lleyns willproduce more crops of lambs compared to other pure and cross-bred sheep breeds. "The majority of breeds concentrate more on breeding terminal sires to produce top quality prime wedder lambs. Even Blackface sheep breeders rely more on the tup trade than the female or the wedder lamb market, therefore, many of the breeds female characteristics are being lost. Blackface sheep dont last like they used to, and that is beginning to come through in the Mule, whereas our Lleyns look as though they will easily produce five or six crops of lambs," added Willie, who up until foot-and-mouth, relied predominantly upon both Blackface and Scotch Mule ewes.
Lleyn hoggs are also proving easier lambed compared to Scotch Mules lambed to a Texel as hoggs. "The Lleyn is the Salers of the sheep world. She has a wider pelvis and therefore the majority of the hoggs lamb themselves. We never get any problems lambing the hoggs to a Lleyn although we do split up twin-born lambs out of hoggs."
Its for this reason that the Lleyn ewe hoggs on this 2000-acre upland unit are lambed inside from the beginning of April onwards, while the Lleyn ewes lamb at the same time outdoors.With the breed having performed so well as a commercial female, the demand for all types of females has also soared over the years. Furthermore, because the breed has the reputation for producing two or three more crops of lambs compared to other commercial sheep breeds, the draft Lleyn is also highly sought after.
However, its not only the breeding males and females of the equation that sell well. Lleyn wedder lambs are also making their presence felt in the market place. Willie added: "We keep all our Lleyns pure and because the breed is renownedfor its tight coat, it produces lambs with good tight skins which are always in demand.
"The Lleyn wedder lamb also sells better compared to a Mule wedder. We have regularly topped the prime lamb market at Lockerbie with pure Lleyn lambs.
Such is the familys enthusiasm for the Lleyn, the hope is to reduce the cross-bred ewe flock to accommodate more pure Lleyns. The overall aim is to upsize the Lleyn flock to 500 ewes whilst also lambing 120 home-bred ewe hoggs. Having increased flock numbers, the family also hopes to sell breeding ewe lambs as apposed to gimmers.
"Foot-and-mouth, was the catalyst that allowed us to increase our Lleyn ewe flock numbers further," added Willie. "We were dabbling in Lleyns just before foot-and-mouth and because we liked what we were working with we decided to base our new sheep enterprise on Lleyns, which we purchased from Sandy Tulloch, Miltonbank; Norman Lawrence, Blackpotts and Debbie McGowan, Incheoch.
"We first saw Lleyns at David Alexanders open day at Galston, in 1999 and we were so impressed by the femininity of the breed, we bought at few from David and John Geldard. We also discovered there is far less hassle involved with Lleyns they require a lot less feeding than Mules, but still produce scanned lambing percentages in excess of 200%."
On average, the Davidsons believe Lleyns will only eat 2/3rds to 3/4s of the amount of concentrate type feeding a Mule will easily consume, and even then, there is often feeding left with the Lleyns. Not surprisingly, the Lleyns have to be separated off from the Mules when feeding is introduced accordingly, after scanning at the end of January.
Lleyns are obviously proving a roaring success farmed commercially on this mixed hill ground unit which rises to almost 1800ft.
"I dont think the bubble will burst. There will come a time when the breed will require a good sort out but if breeders continue to go for size, length and femininity there will always be a demand for the Lleyn. At the end of the day, the commercial man is looking for an easy care sheep that produces lambs with carcases and that is just exactly what the Lleyn achieves."