Bringing in the New Year with new life, whether as babies or new-born lambs, has always been one of the most wonderful times in this festive season.
As any prospective mothers, and indeed ewes, but certainly their owners will tell you it’s not necessarily the easiest of times but the positive end result of a successful birth never fails to bring a smile.
On the business front, December and January are big months in the lambing calendar among pedigree producers who lamb at this time specifically to allow for as much growth as possible for ram lambs to look as big and powerful as possible come the next summer’s show and sale season.
Size invariably means a great deal especially in the Charollais world and that’s why Cyril Dougherty of Kirby Misperton lambs his flock in three separate batches.
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Cyril moved over from his native Northern Ireland 22 years ago and started his pedigree Shamrock Charollais flock in 2003.
He’d had plenty of experience with the breed from his parents’ farm in County Down between Kircubbin and Portavogie on the east coast where they had started putting the Charollais on to Suffolk X Cheviot ewes, and when he had run his own flock at 17 years of age putting the Charollais tup to his Texel X Rouge ewes.
He’s had great success at the Great Yorkshire Show and several other shows in Yorkshire and is in demand as a judge having cast his eye over classes at Lincolnshire Show, Exeter and Builth Wells.
“The Great Yorkshire Show is our shop window,” says Cyril, who has four acres where his Shamrock Sheds business is based and rents a further acreage from Tim Easterby.
“We’ve had some excellent firsts in classes at Harrogate with a tup lamb, Shamrock Northern Star, who has been possibly the best tup I’ve bred; gimmer lamb Shamrock Lady GaGa who also won again as a ewe; and ewe Juicy Lucy who belongs to my younger daughter Lucy.
“That’s why this time of year is so important to us. Champions are made in December and January.
“We’ve already lambed some really good lambs in the past few weeks, some of the best I’ve seen for a long time.
“I think a lot of it is down to the culling policy I’ve had this time, getting the flock down to the most productive ewes and also using a number of different tups. I’ve used five this year.
“We’re starting to see a bit of variation now with the lambs. You’re getting your size into the tup lambs for the commercial buyers in July.
“You’re trying to get an even combination.
“One tup will either breed all males or all females. It’s very hard to get one that will do both, so that’s why I spread my chances by having a variety of tups.
“A few years ago I bought an Oakchurch tup at Worcester for 2,100 guineas.
“He was a very good tup but I wouldn’t want to put all my eggs into one basket again as I did then.”
Cyril is in positive mood about his current lambing but has been in the business long enough not to get too carried away at this stage.
“I’m looking forward to the rest of the lambing but I don’t want to say too much about any one lamb we have on the ground after the first 20 born this time because the one you say could be outstanding you can go in the shed the next morning and it could be feet up!”
The Shamrock flock lambs from December 1, the earliest that lambs can be born to enter the summer shows, with a second batch lambing now and the third in the second week of January. Cyril’s daughters Molly, 14, and Lucy, 8, enjoy showing the sheep alongside their dad and work with him during lambing.
“They both love showing and have their own sheep in the flock. Showing is fantastic for young ones to bring them out of their shell and it is a great way of young ones moving forward in life and mixing with others.
“Molly has now also joined Kirkbymoorside YFC.”
Creating the right balance between his main income and the Charollais flock brought about Cyril’s move to culling harder and it is now something he regards as having been a highly useful exercise.
“At one stage we were at 80 ewes but I cut right back to 40 because I was too busy with my Shamrock Sheds job that pays the bills.
“I might even come down to 35 ewes. I’m now concentrating on quality and I aim to sell good stock at both the male and female pedigree sales at Skipton each year.
“I usually try to keep between 12-15 gimmer lambs and the same number of tup lambs, selecting the show stock from those and selling the best at the sales in summer.
“The rest of the lambs that don’t make either of those groups go in the spring at either Malton or Thirsk livestock markets.
“Radford Butchers of Sleights ring me when they need supply and buy them in the market. By selling them early it means I’m also not tightened up for grass.
“I’ve had some great support from fellow breeders like Charles Marwood, Arwen Thomas who is now chairman of the Charollais Society, Alan Potter and Kenton Foster.
“In my second year of running a pedigree flock I bought a tup from Charles that I had for six years, because at the time I was buying ewes that he could go on, and that tup is still a big influence on the flock today.
‘We’ve won breed championships at many shows including champion of champions at Masham. We wouldn’t stand a chance if we weren’t lambing at this time.
“That’s why it’s so important, as well as being such a happy time with fresh new lambs to look forward to showing in summer.”