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For any breed to flourish & expand, it must bring itself to as wide an audience as possible & justify the claims made for it. At the same time it is vital to stimulate interest amongst future generations of potential sheep keepers. An excellent opportunity for the Llanwenog breed arose in 2011, when Bridgwater College agreed to establish a flock at Rodway Farm, Cannington with the help of the then farm manager, Steve Jones.

The increasing number of agricultural students together with the many visitors and other activities at the farm provided a valuable shop window for the breed. Performance comparisons would now be possible be with other sheep on the farm, which at the outset were predominantly Texel crosses originally derived from Mule ewes.

An initial purchase of 42 ewes was made from the Nell & Langley flocks, which were tupped to a Charolais ram in mid October & subsequently scanned at 178%. Although less than the Texel crosses at 206%, this was considered satisfactory for sheep which had been on the farm for less than a year. Significantly at the subsequent lambing in 2012, the gap was narrowed with the Llanwenog lamb losses being 5% less. Already Steve Jones was expressing his satisfaction with the breed, being particularly pleased with their docility and ease of management with lower levels of mortality, mastitis and foot rot.

It was also learnt that it is important not to house them too long prior to lambing on too dense a diet to avoid excess condition (avoid dairy cow type diets!) The breed continued to thrive during the wet summer of 2012 with the lamb weight gains being comparable with other breeds at 0.28kg/day over 90 days. A further 25 ewes were purchased from the Langley flock in 2012. All Llanwenogs were again run with a Charolais ram at the same time as all the other ewes to enable better pre-lambing management. A comparative feed trial during the housed period showed that LLanwenog ewes ate 0.4kg less food/head/day than their Texel cross counterparts, helping justify the breed’s claim to be economic. At the 2013 lambing, lamb losses were over 10% less amongst the Llanwenog ewes resulting in the live lambing % being comparable with the Texel crosses (169%).

2013 saw a further purchase of 50 ewes from the Nell & Langley flocks, this time tupped to a Texel to achieve better shaped lambs & easier management at lambing. A pre-lambing ration based on chopped hay & molasses with concentrates proved very effective as well as helping to prevent prolapses. 2013 also saw the first award of the Trevor Kelland Memorial Bursary of £150/year to support second year, Level 3 students undertaking project work involving Llanwenogs. This was established in memory of the late Trevor Kelland, a well known South West Llanwenog breeder & something of a character, who contributed enormously to the breed over a great many years. The initial award was made to David Curryer & Zac Gratton. The 2014 lambing proved particularly challenging in terms of disease (Erisypelas, Joint Ill & Pneumonia) & live lambing percentages were less than satisfactory. However, in a detailed whole flock analysis, David found that abortions were 5% fewer among Llanwenog ewes as were total lamb losses resulting in a 12% better live lambing percentage than Texel cross ewes. Zac noted in his project report that Llanwenog cross lambs gained weight more evenly as a group & the breed had coped well with the widely reported flooding on the Somerset Levels earlier in 2014. Our 2015 recipients, Charlotte Male & Hannah Herriot used smaller groups of ewes for their projects, but nevertheless demonstrated that Llanwenogs compete well with Texel crosses. Charlotte found that her group of Llanwenogs had a 10% higher percentage of reared lambs than Texel crosses due to lower lambs losses, much in line with findings of previous years. Interestingly Hannah concluded that Llanwenogs were milkier & their lambs required less supplementary milk feeding in the immediate post lambing period.

2016 saw change following the resignation of Steve Jones with responsibility for farm management being taken over by Velcourt, who appointed George Jones as farm manager. The sheep flock has been restructured & fortunately the Llanwenog as a native breed is part of this alongside a newly established pedigree Texel flock & a commercial flock (Mules & Texel crosses). George’s initial views of the breed very much reflect those of his predecessor in terms of ease of management, hardiness & less lameness. This was reinforced in 2016 by Ben Roberts, who compared ease of lambing & lamb vigour between Llanwenogs & Texel cross ewes, again using small groups. He found that Llanwenogs crossed to a Texel lambed just as easily as larger framed Texels crossed to a Charolais & that lambs from the Llanwenog/Texel combination were very vigorous, getting up quickly at birth & readily suckling. He concluded that Llanwenogs would be ideal for someone looking for an easy care sheep that is cheap to keep & lambs easily with good lamb vigour. Later in 2016 a purebred Llanwenog ram was purchased from the Glwydwern flock to be mated to all the Llanwenogs to provide homebred replacements. For her 2017 project Megan Herriot compared the lambing performance of small groups of randomly selected Llanwenogs & Mules. Perhaps not surprisingly the Mules had better scanned & live lambing percentages but Megan did comment that Llanwenogs are very good mothers & although their lambs are smaller at birth, they have better growth rates. She also noted that losses were more management than breed related.

So what can we conclude from all this? There may well be other breeds & crosses which have a higher lambing percentage, but Llanwenogs lamb easily, are good mothers & losses at lambing are low. They are resilient in the face of disease & harsh weather, added to which they are docile & easy to manage. Being of medium size they are cheap to keep & can be more heavily stocked with the potential to produce a weight of lamb per acre equal to any other breed. Llanwenogs have all the ingredients to compete profitably with other breeds & crosses!