Commercial Berrichon Flocks
“Once people have tried a Berrichon ram they’ll be converted for life”
The Berrichon is rapidly gaining a strong reputation as an ideal modern sheep, capable of successfully competing with other established terminal sires, both native and continental. Berrichon sired lambs are easily born and active at birth, soon on their feet and suckling getting that vital colostrum This has become an important attribute sheep farmers have looked for when choosing rams due to more extreme weather conditions endured in recent lambing times. and the decreasing amount of labour available on many farms.
The versatility of the Berrichon on many different breeds and crossbreeds from Mules to Suffolk and continental cross to the smaller native hill breeds is becoming increasingly recognised. Lambs can be easily finished with or without concentrates due to their easy fleshing ability, and lambs can be selected at various weights and achieve higher grades, thus capable of satisfying all requirements in the modern-day meat industry. It also means that Berrichon sired lambs are capable of hitting higher trade periods when required to do so. With feed costs continuing to rise, the ability for Berrichon sired lambs to finish without the need for concentrates makes them an attractive choice for sheep farmers as more profit is left in the farmers’ pocket.
Not only are Berrichons an ideal producer of fat lambs, but also crossbred females. Berrichon cross females are being kept for breeding in many areas, which are equally as productive as other commercial ewes but have more shape, thus resulting in a more valuable cull ewe. Their correctness means that ewes can be kept for longer and therefore culling and the possible need to buy in replacement females becomes less frequent. Once you try a Berrichon, you will be converted for life.
Since 2005 our sheep enterprise has been based on a relatively low input flock, lambing outdoors from mid-April, with the majority of the lambs held back until after Christmas and fattened outside on homegrown cereal-based rations in the hope of catching the rising seasonal market. This has worked well for us until this year when the high cereal prices and depressed lamb trade have combined to make the figures look rather sad. It has however convinced me even more of the merits of low maintenance, easy-care breed like the Berrichon.
It was almost by accident that I stumbled across Berrichon sheep. I had been retaining my Texel x ewe lambs into the flock as replacements for a number of years but as the percentage of Texel blood in the ewes increased so we were running into more and more problems with prolificy and lambing difficulties. Realising that we needed an out-cross that wouldn’t be compromising on lamb quality we returned to the Suffolk, but soon remembered why we had left them, the lambs were far too big and slow at birth for our system with the ewes going off and leaving them, also too many dirty tails in the summer with all the problems and extra work that brings. We then tried Charollais but found the newborn lambs much too bare-skinned and weakly for lambing outdoors in Northumberland. I then read an article in the Farmers Guardian by a chap from Dorset, and he talked about Berrichon being the best-kept secret in sheep farming. All the qualities he talked about were exactly what I was looking for – easy lambing, hardy, vigorous lambs that get up and suck then grow on quickly and will kill out at 21-22kg deadweight and grade at 2 and 3L.
The following September I went to Kelso and bought my first Berrichon ram from Arabella Johnston and put him over 60 gimmer shearlings. They were so easily lambed, and I have never known such sharp lambs, even in a blizzard they are up and sucking in no time. The rest is history, all of our ewes are now tupped with the Berrichon. The lambs are just as popular as the texel x lambs with the buyers and the gimmers we have retained as replacements have grown into nice breedy looking sheep. The first ones will lamb this year and I’m confident that they will make good ewes. In fact, I’ve been so impressed with them that for the first time in my life I’ve been tempted to venture into pedigree sheep breeding.
In November 2011 I bought eight gimmer shearlings from the Strathallan and Woodston flocks and again I couldn’t believe how easily they lambed and what good mothers they are. Last year’s lambs are growing on nicely and our ewes have just finished lambing again.
Sadly Berrichon sheep are still pretty much a secret in our area. I would like to change that by trying to produce good shearling rams and then convincing local sheep farmers to try them because I really believe that once people have tried a Berrichon ram they’ll be converted for life.
A lot of Berrichon tight skinned types have very little or no wool within 2-3 inches around their genitals. This attribute sometimes takes away the look of fullness behind and between the legs but from a practical point of view, no wool is better.
This was brought to a breeder’s attention at the last Royal Show. Returning to his pen he found half a dozen men crouching and taking photos of Berrichon sheep, but only of their rears. They all had a chat and it was found out that they were from the Australian Texel Society on a trip to the UK. They were concerned about what to do when mulesing was banned in Australia – the removal of strips of wool-bearing skin from around the breech in order to prevent flystrike – to achieve what exists naturally with a Berrichon.
Even in crossbred offspring, the wool covering around the genitals is reduced. At these times of problems transmitted by flies, this can only be a help. When talking to both organic farmers and those concerned about using too many chemicals, they say they are crutching their sheep up to twice a year. The Berrichon can definitely reduce this.