Behind The Scenes At Whiteley Hey: From Breeding To Feeding

Behind The Scenes At Whiteley Hey: From Breeding To Feeding

Most in the sheep sector have heard of Whiteley Hey, best known for their annual production sale now impressively in its 22nd year. Here’s how they got there and what they are doing to stay at the top.

It was 1978 when Paul Slater and brother, Nigel, took on the Whiteley Hey family farm in Macclesfield. At the time, the Slater family were predominantly milking cows whilst producing and fattening a few Suffolk sheep.

“We brought our first Texel ram for 278 guineas; I remember it well. Come lambing time, we had more Texel lambs than we had Suffolks. We were fixing up a butcher with 20-25 lambs a week and were getting a £10 a lamb premium for the Texel lambs over the Suffolks. We also had 5 Beltex Texels wether lambs that went on and won a championship, killing out at 63%. The judge told us we had found the answer to the British sheep industry,” explains Paul.

“We kept growing in numbers, so I took on Dandy Farm in 1998, and still now run the flock between the two farms. At the same time my daughter, Claire, was born. Then we had the lifechanging turmoil that affected everybody – the dreaded foot and mouth. We ended up on a d-notice but fought tooth and nail,” adds Paul.

“Early 2002, before lambing time, I restocked two farmers up in Cumbria and that is when things changed. We set up our first production sale, selling 600 sheep at Borderway Mart, and had a fantastic sale. H&H classed it as one of the best displays of livestock in Borderway mart. Things have just developed and gone on from there, and now we’re heading into our 22nd year”.

“We found a niche with the Beltex Texel market, and I could see there being a big future for them. We have built up a clientele throughout the UK and now over in Ireland as well. I meet and deal with some of the nicest flock masters in the country and really enjoy that. It’s kept going for strength to strength. I wouldn’t settle for anything but the best. Second best is no good”.   

Breeding the best

“What is most important to us, is our insistence on the best genetics and doing it all as naturally as possible,” adds Paul. “Not only is this important to our business, but important to the farmers buying stock from us. The rams always go on and do because the breeding is right, and they are all outwintered here so have developed a level of hardiness”.

“I have spent a lot of money on buying the right rams. I’m looking out for very tight skins, very hard muscle, very tight flesh, overall ring presence and not too bigger head or shoulders. We look out for weight in the right places,” adds Paul.

Feeding the best  

With the breeding right, the focus turns to feed to realise full genetic potential at Whiteley Hey. And with scanning a bit lower and costs higher this year [2022/23], every lamb life is more important than ever.

It’s the weeks leading up to lambing time that colostrum quality and lamb vigour is influenced by ewe nutrition; something that the Whiteley Hey team have got down to a tee.

“In the weeks leading up to lambing time, we have the breeding ewes on a tailored maintenance mix that Ryan [Carr’s Billington Sheep Feed Specialist] formulated for us, which they have on top of the sugar beet pulp. We also have the singles on EWEMAX19 when they are outside to ensure lamb vigour,” adds Paul.

Both diets feature high-DUP and SafMannan to ensure a supply of nutritious colostrum that helps to fight off clostridial diseases and joint ill. This is especially important as antibiotics are not as available as they were.

Fast forward to post-lambing, the focus is on getting lambs eating dry feed fast to promote cost effective feed conversion as they go on.

“We start our lambs on EarlyBite creep feed – it smells just like honey. The lambs love it. They get straight to it and then go on and do well. We’re over the moon with it. Then they go onto Brecon lamb 50:50 with sugar beet pellets in creep feeders. Ryan advised this would help for bone development and growth in the predominantly breeding stock. After that on sugar beet pulp,” adds Paul.

“Ryan from Carr’s Billington came highly recommended by a friend of mine, and has done very well by us, giving us top class feed that enables our genetics to work their magic,” concludes Paul.

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