Following a visit by German sheep breeders to last year’s NSA Sheep Event in Malvern, the compliment was returned when representatives of the UK sheep sector accepted an invitation to go to northern Germany 13-15 June 2017.
Germany is an important market being the second biggest importer (after France) of British lamb; the UK breeding sector is also an attractive source of sheep genetics both in terms of new as well as high-performing bloodlines.
Being only 50% self-sufficient in lamb production, the German sheep sector is relatively small: around 1.6m breeding ewes and 2,000 commercial farmers. Annual exports of British lamb are 13,000t which is projected to rise to 20,000t over the next couple of years.
The visit was co-ordinated by Richard Saunders with representatives from the Texel Sheep Society (Ian Murray, Northumberland); National Sheep Association Northern Ireland (Edward Adamson, Co Antrim) & AHDB (J-P Garnier, Head of Exports & Ros Turner, Leics, Beef & Lamb Board Member).
Host was Herr Wendelin Schmuecker, President of the German Sheep Promotion Board, whose flock of 700 pure German Blackface ewes in Lower Saxony was the first stop – this breed being the third largest numerically in Germany after Texel and Merino respectively.
Three-quarters of the flock lamb in January (averaging 1.6 lambs per ewe) with the other quarter in April. The target lamb weight is 45kg - all sold live at around 2.90 euro per kg or £119 per head (as at June 2017).
Heading north to Schleswig Holstein, Wednesday saw a visit to Jan Siebels’ 1000-ewe commercial flock comprising Texel, Bleu de Maine & Suffolk bloodlines with a 2.0 and 1.3 lambing average for older and younger sheep respectively.
A mixture of rams are used (Texel, German Whiteface & Suffolk) with the recent introduction of Charollais as well as UK Logie-Durno hybrids (50% Lleyn; 25% each Texel & Charollais) around two years ago ‘’to improve the maternal characteristics and have lower maintenance sheep,’’ according to Jan.
Lambing in the first and third week of April, target weight for lambs is 50kg with an average price of 2.60 euro achieved in 2016 (£132 per head).
Young breeder, Hanna Hansen, then presented her 220-head commercial flock which lambs end-February to early April averaging 180% and aiming for the 45-50kg mark. Terminal sires used are Texel, Bleu de Maine & Suffolk.
Away from the breeding side came a visit to the Burmeister abattoir which works in partnership with the Baumbach Farm Shop located in the strong tourist area of Nordstrand on the North Sea coast which markets Nordfriesland (North Friesian) lamb on similar lines to Salt Marsh lamb in the UK. Sales through the shop and online reach 2,000 head annually.
Family-owned, Burmeister kills 200 lambs, 40 pigs and 20 cows or steers per week and sells mainly to butchers or through their own shops. On the beef side, everything is Galloway-bred either bought in prime or as stores where they are finished on their 300ha salt marsh.
Hosting the visit were Uwe Burmeister, Karl Olschewski & Doerte Baumbach.
Staying true to the coastal theme, Thursday brought Joerg Jensen’s 2000-ewe flock comprising of Texel, German Whiteface & Suffolk crosses put to Swifter rams ‘'to improve profligacy'’ according to Joerg which has resulted in an increase from 1.7 to 2.0 lambs.
Progeny retained for breeding are then put back to the Texel. Lambs are born in three groups from 1st April and sold to a regular Dutch buyer from 1st July at 50kg which are purchased for 2.95 euro liveweight (£147 per head).
Based on the Hamburger Hallig salt marsh, like Nordfriesland this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sheep have to be moved onto the raised dikes at high water and losses are high due to the tall grass and boggy conditions.
The final visit on Thursday was to pedigree breeder Kalli Fischer who sells around 35 rams per year from his 60-ewe flock of Suffolk, Texel, German Whiteface & Charollais. Rams are sold privately or at the annual August ram sale in Husum, the largest in Germany with 700 head coming under the hammer.
New bloodlines are purchased from UK, France, Denmark & Germany and used exclusively in natural service due to the almost non-existent AI sector in Germany, according to Kalli. Theaves are put to the smaller Dorper for their first pregnancy and lamb at 11-12 months.
Pedigree breeders record through Ovicap and scan just once at 100 days for fat depth and muscling which in turn produces daily liveweight gain figures and some measure of maternal characteristics.
Grateful thanks are extended to Wendelin Schmuecker for organising the extremely interesting trip and to our hosts for their kind and generous hospitality.