RUNNING a 1,000 ewes across 1,700 acres that rise from 800ft to over 1700ft above sea level means time is precious and modern management tools essential for Co Antrim farmer Ian Crawford at Parkmore Farms.
“Some see hill farming as traditional and unchanging, but that is not really the full story,” explains Ian who farms with his wife Catherine plus sons John and Noel.
“My late grandfather, John, and my father Rodger built up this farm business at Parkmore and enjoyed great success as Scottish Blackface breeders. But times change and our farming business changed to suit commercial realities. That means crossing all our Blackface with modern Bluefaced Leicester tups to produce mule ewe lambs. Next we then put the Texel to all our crossbred ewes, which produces a top quality commercial lamb crop.
“Changing times likewise means using modern management tools such as the only fully automatic ear tag applicator, the TagFaster, developed in Scotland by Roxan.
“We produce 300 flock replacements for ourselves each year and sell the others, mostly to repeat customers in the yard. As regards the wether lambs these go through local marts fas forward stores to be finished later in the year.”
Reflecting on the move at Parkmore away from being specialist Scottish Blackface breeders John Crawford noted that nowadays the only sheep bought in are some rams. Aside from sheep the Crawfords' other enterprise is a herd of around 30 suckler cows using Limousin, British Blue and Aberdeen Angus genetics.
John explaining that with their lowest land opposite the entrance to Glenariff Forest Park and the highest point Slievenanee Mountain heavier cattle simply would not suit ground and weather conditions. Calves born over March and April are away at the following autumn's single suck sales. Slievenanee at 543m being the second highest mountain in Co Antrim.
His father Ian emphasises the need to have a first rate livestock identification system in place to help manage such a large flock over such as large area.
“With Roxan we know from experience tag retention is brilliant. Indeed we see five year old ewes coming through Ballymena mart that we sold as ewe lambs. And they still have our Roxan ear tags firmly in place.
“And we can instantly tell the age of them and every other sheep back home at a glance as colour coding by year with Roxan is simple.
“ Now we are moving towards using an electronic wand number reader, which will be brilliant in so many time saving ways. For example, when we sell a batch of ewe lambs to a customer the numbers are read within minutes and printed out on site. One copy for the buyer and one for us.
“The Roxan system includes a small portable printer. The numbers can also go back to our farm office laptop. Not wrestling with wet sheep on a wet day reading off numbers is something we will not miss! Nor trying to read smudged numbers on that back of an envelope.
“Aside from the foundation of any good livestock ID system, high tag retention rate, Roxan has the huge bonus of their automatic TagFaster applicator. This handles strips of 20 tags, 10 doubles.
“So gone are the days of footering with pliers. No more stopping to reload after every ear or retrieving tags dropped in the muck.
“This very practical applicator has saved us so much time and made flock management so much simpler. Yet, like most good ideas, the applicator is a simple, sound design made to withstand frequent use. Truly the aptly named TagFaster applicator has made tagging and reading tags a one man and his dog job.
“Looking back just over a decade to when we bought another farm of 180 acres we have had to take on board a lot of changes. It was on that new farm we first moved from the pure hardy Blackface to the mule and discovered that the Texel cross could have a role on the hill. I guess coming from the Netherlands, another country with lots of rain, the breed had a head start in thriving as a crossbred on the Antrim Hills.
“ Nearer Ballymena we also rent about 75 acres of better ground to suit twins and make silage. Again having the Roxan tags and applicators makes life so much simpler with stock away from home, be it on conacre ground or indeed a 1,000 ft above our farmyard on Slievenanee.
“As in previous generations our aim is to continually breed better sheep be they pedigree or commercial. Roxan is key to the record keeping vital to making that progress,” Ian affirmed.
For details of the Roxan range of livestock ID products used by the Crawford family browse www.roxan.co.uk or contact Sonia McBride, Roxan NI Business Development Manager at Datamars, Ballycastle, tel; 07961 603984, e mail [email protected]