Quintuplets born to Charollais ewe on Castlederg farm

Early this January saw a pedigree Charollais ewe give birth to quintuplets on the Castlederg farm of the Foster family. The even better news is that the mother and all the new arrivals are doing well.

“We were expecting the ewe to produce four lambs, based on her scanning results,” said John Foster.

“The arrival of the fifth was a genuine surprise. All of the lambs are of a decent size and the fact that they are all progressing well represents a genuine boost at the start of the 2017 lambing season.”

The Fosters, owners of the renowned Springhill Texel and Charollais flocks, are totally committed to achieving the highest levels of performance form all of their sheep. John’s son Graham takes up the story.

“We run 200-crossbred ewes in tandem with 40 pedigree Charollais females and a 70-strong purebred Texel flock.

“Only 15 of the Charollais females are crossed pure: the other 25 are put to high merit Texel tips. This allows us to produce extremely high quality cross bred rams, which are in great demand amongst an increasing numbers of commercial flockowners. The rams have the ability to produce high quality lambs: they are also inherently fertile.

“The quintuplets, three ewe lambs and two rams, were produced from one of these crossbred matings.”

The Fosters’ Charollais ewes started lambing on January 5th. The lambing season for the Texels and crossbreds will get underway at the beginning of February. A number of the crossbred ewes are carrying pedigree embryos.

Graham also confirmed that the family had enjoyed an excellent year in 2016, from a pedigree performance and sales’ perspective.

“We sold three Charollais ram lambs at Dungannon last July for 2,000gns, 1,400gns and 560gns with all three animals going to other pedigree breeders,” he said.

“We also bred the 1st and 2nd prize ewe lambs and overall female champion at the same event. They sold for 1,200gns and 800gns respectively.”

The 2016 flock competitions marked the continuing rise in the the merit of the Springhill Charollais flock.

“We were placed third overall third in the small flock competition,” confirmed John Foster.

“But even more satisfying was the fact that our ewe lambs were initially selected as the first prize winner within the small flock competition, they then went on to be selected as the overall champion ewe lambs within the breed.”

Last year also saw the Fosters sell a home bred ram lamb – Springhill Royal Commander – to Banbridge Charollais breeder Drew Cowan. It went on to be selected as the overall junior stock ram in the 2016 Charollais flock competition.

“We also sold a total of 89 pedigree and cross bred rams in Omagh on September 17th last,” said John.

The Fosters complement their sheep business with a dairy enterprise. They milk 220 Holstein/ Friesians. The herd is currently averaging 8,500L. Both John and Graham believe in giving their lambs and calves the best possible start.

“The first 6 weeks of life are crucial,” said Graham

“With this in mind, all the lambs receive 50cc of Provita lamb colostrum as soon as they are born. The same approach is taken with all twin calves born on the farm and calves born to heifers. Getting sufficient, high quality colostrum into newborns within minutes of birth is crucially important. All our calves are given two Provita Response capsules as soon as they are born. By taking this approach we have managed to reduce scour problems to almost non-existent levels.”

The Fosters also recognise that giving birth puts ewes and cows under high levels of stress.

“We routinely drench cows that have calved twins and all our ewes with triplets Provita’s Energy Plus drink,” said Graham.

“It certainly helps boost energy levels in the ewes to help recovery after challenging births.”

Post lambing, John Foster recognises the need to footbath ewes and lambs regularly.

“Early in the season we use Provita Hoofsure Endurance for this purpose, as opposed to formalin, as young lambs did not like walking through formalin” he said.

“Hoofsure Endurance does an excellent job and it is completely non-toxic.”  

Provita’s Tommy Armstrong was a recent visitor to the Foster farm. He agreed with the principle that giving lambs and calves the best possible start as being critically important on every farm. He said:

“Provita Lamb Colostrum has a rich consistency and is easy to mix, which is especially important during the night. In light of this John and Graham consider the associated cost as being inexpensive, as it is saving the lives and boosting the growth rates of numerous lambs.

“The additional benefit of using the Provita product, in tandem with natural feeding, is that all lambs receive their full colostrum requirement quickly. In short, it gives the flock owner total piece of mind.”