Mule breeder builds flock health to keep market share – Farmers Weekly


A Lake District household is breeding its personal rams and screening excessive-danger inventory for iceberg ailments to present assurances for its Mule lamb prospects.

The Hodgsons have been at High Borrans, Windermere, since 2007 and have bred North of England Mules for the reason that Seventies.

They have not too long ago stepped up flock health checks to compete with rival maternal breeds providing health accreditation.

A sequence of administration selections has been taken to enhance the biosecurity and health of the 1,200-ewe flock in a bid to keep market share lengthy into the long run.

See additionally: How Mules can rise to the problem of rival sheep breeds

This goal is to reassure business breeding sheep consumers, and to make sure the productiveness of the draft Swaledale ewes within the Mule breeding system at High Borrans, which has a 150-160% lambing price in an outside system. 

Farm info: High Borrans, Windermere

  • 415ha (1,027 acres) of grassland, together with tough hill and good in-bye floor
  • 1,200 Swaledale ewes, most of that are crossed to Bluefaced Leicester (crossing kind)
  • 200 Swaledales bred pure
  • 35 suckler cows – Limousins to produce weaned calves and Whitebred Shorthorns for stewardship grazing on boggy floor
  • 12 Bluefaced Leicester ewes plus followers
  • Seven vacation cottages and one shepherd’s hut


  • High Borrans is farmed in a household partnership throughout three owned and two rented Lakeland farms totalling 2,940ha (7,000 acres) with greater than 4,000 hill sheep (primarily Swaledales)
  • Partners are brothers Christopher (Rydal), Jimmy (Hartsop Hall) and Jonathan Hodgson, along with Jonathan’s spouse, Cathy, and son, Bertie
  • A marriage barn is at Rydal and the enterprise has vacation cottages at Hartsop.

Starting screening

The first iceberg illness being screened for is maedi visna (MV), an incurable and extremely contagious virus that limits manufacturing and is invariably deadly.

The plan is to proceed to check by way of blood sampling with Oakhill Vets and ultimately have sufficient examined to qualify for “MV monitored” standing (see field), reasonably than “MV accredited”.

This is as a result of the intensive nature of the farm means the biosecurity necessities of the Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) MV Accreditation Scheme can’t be met.

Two men in front of a dry stone wall

Jonathan Hodgson (left) and his son Bertie © MAG/Michael Priestley

But Jonathan Hodgson sees hill farming as a worthwhile commerce-off, because the powerful floor and local weather (2m of rainfall/yr) produces hardy inventory that graze over 800m above sea degree.

All sheep lamb outside, chopping down on the potential unfold of MV – which researchers not too long ago described as a “illness of housing”.

“Fresh air and grass are the most effective issues for them,” says Jonathan. “I feel essentially the most we’ve ever had to home over a lambing is 90-odd ewes.

“We don’t vaccinate for abortion, which some would possibly say is worth it doing for insurance coverage, however outside lambing has its advantages in addition to its challenges.”

With all Leicester ewes, rams and recipient ewes – 50 sheep in all – boasting MV-free blood assessments from the SRUC laboratory, the plan is to proceed testing cull ewes within the autumn to work in direction of MV monitored standing.

Then to begin testing for Johne’s and ovine pulmonary adenocarcinoma/jaagsiekte (OPA).

SRUC MV monitoring scheme necessities

  • Target 20 excessive-danger animals – that’s, skinny or downside ewes – and check some cull ewes
  • Test all rams (as a result of they’ve direct contact with a variety of sheep)
  • Test a proportion of additional animals which have decrease health standing, for instance, ewes hefted on open fell or widespread grazing
  • SRUC should then situation a certificates and situation a signed declaration
  • Taking half within the scheme doesn’t qualify an animal for export or accredited sections at reveals and gross sales

Closed flocks

The Hodgsons have run closed hill flocks for 30 years and have not too long ago minimize down on the variety of rams purchased to enhance farm biosecurity.

An elite flock of 200 Swaledale ewes breeds Swaledale tups and purebred replacements.

Jonathan and Bertie consider the biosecurity risked posed by the hefted Swaledale ewes is low as many of the grazing is on “sole fells”, so mixing with neighbouring sheep is proscribed.

The Hodgsons based their Micklemoss Bluefaced Leicester flock in 2019, which is predicated closely on Nunscleugh K20, with ewes purchased from the Lunesdale, Feizor, Midlock and Gapshield flocks.

“Fifteen homebred Mules have been used as recipients for a flush of a K20 daughter and her mom, who was a G11 Ted daughter. K20 semen has been used by way of the flock.

Previously the farm spent up to £30,000 a yr on tups, so breeding the farm’s personal crossing Leicesters ought to convey monetary advantages too,” explains Bertie.

“We don’t need to breed sheep which are too huge. If you take a look at a variety of different breeds, the emphasis is on reasonably sized ewes and output and revenue per hectare, in order that’s what we hope we may help our prospects obtain,” he says.

Ewes and lambs in a field

The Bluefaced Leicester flock was began final yr © MAG/Michael Priestley

“We try to breed one thing with an excellent physique, a good pores and skin, good locomotion and lengthy-lasting enamel.”

The draft Swaledale ewes come to High Borrans from the partnership’s hill farms as 4-crop ewes, with sheep sometimes lasting one other three years at High Borrans.

“We had one Swaledale that gave 12 units of twins. That is outstanding for us, however we like to assume we’re breeding sheep that final properly,” Bertie says.

Flock health plan

In addition to iceberg ailments, the Hodgsons keep a detailed eye on parasites and have an annual vet go to to overview their flock health plan.

Faecal egg counts are completed by way of the summer season to affect worming selections, and coccidiosis blocks are used to assist lambs thrive. A put up-mortem service is used to monitor unexplained deaths.

A strict quarantine coverage is in place whereby incoming rams are remoted in a pen for a minimum of two weeks and given an orange Monepantel wormer.

The Hodgsons discover this extremely efficient due to it being closely regulated and comparatively new to the market.

All lambs are vaccinated for Pasteurella and clostridials and marketed as such when offered at North West Auctions’ Junction 36 web site, both as breeding Mule lambs by way of the North of England Mule Sheep Association sale or as retailer wethers.

The future

The Hodgsons recognise the promoting factors of different breeds, however say the Mule boasts hybrid vigour, versatility and maternal capacity.

“We hope this strategy to flock health will get us a premium at gross sales, and probably be a distinct segment market as Mules with excessive health standing are wonderful as recipients for embryo switch work,” says Jonathan.

Breeding sheep costs lifted final yr, however solely sufficient to make up for a 25% drop in Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) cash, he provides.

This means the revenue from the 800-1,000 Mule gimmers they promote yearly will stay important to the enterprise.


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