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Duncan Nelless - Thistleyhaugh Farm, Northumberland

The RamCompare flock consists of second-tier ewes drafted from Duncan’s pedigree Signet-recorded Lleyn flock.

  • 550ha upland family farm
  • Large organic sheep enterprise of 2,000 Lleyn ewes
  • Lambs are born in March/April and are finished from ten weeks using clover-rich leys
  • Lambs from achieve growth rates up to weaning of over 0.3kg/day
  • EID and strict grassland management are instrumental to their productive system

Key finding: “We were already using recorded terminal sires but since being involved in this project we have been clearly shown the benefit of using high index recorded rams. Over the last three years lambs have consistently killed out with heavier carcases when drawn at the same weight, and are not killing out as fat which means a higher percentage of carcases fall into the 2-3L specification. Through our involvement in this project we are certainly convinced of the importance of a rams individual EBVs and would choose future replacement rams based on this.” Duncan Nelless.


Find out more about Duncan

AHDB Beef and Lamb board member, Duncan Nelless already understands the value of selective breeding from his experience performance recording his large Lleyn flock with Signet Breeding Services.

Duncan’s “can do” mentality and track record in data collection, means the project is lucky to be able to get him involved. We are also pleased to involved an organic enterprise, making high use of forage in this eyecatching upland setting.

Who are you and where do you farm?

Thistleyhaugh farm situated in Northumberland covers 1000 acres running from the river Coquet with views to the Cheviot Hills on the Scottish border. The farm has been in the family for over 100 years, now managed by Duncan Nelless and his brother Angus they have doubled the area farmed and flock size over the past 15 years, moving from a traditional 850 ewe mule flock to replace them with a closed flock of pedigree Lleyns.

Aware of cost pressures they decided to convert the farm to Organic status and started conversion in 2005 with the aim to reduce input costs and make the most of their grassland, since then they operate strict grassland management with emphasis on red and white clover.

Enterprises include:

  • 1600 Lleyn ewes
  • 115 suckler cow herd
  • Contract rear 1500 pigs
  • 7000 free range poultry enterprise with small abattoir on site
  • Farm Bed & Breakfast business
  • Areas of the farm are managed under Natural England HLS/SSSI status
  • Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year Finalist 2012

How would you describe your sheep enterprise? System: Despite no concentrates being fed they achieve growth rates up to weaning of over 0.3kg/day. The whole flock has been EID tagged and recorded since 2007. EID and good grassland management are instrumental to their productive system and have helped to reduce lambing assistance, increase maternal drive and reduced management issues to name a few.

What sort of ewes do you have?

The Lleyn flock is split into A and B flocks to accelerate breed development. With the majority lambing outdoors the A flock is put to carefully selected Lleyn rams and the commercial B flock is put to Signet performance recorded Charollais or Hampshire Down rams.

Tupping: Mid Oct for 6 weeks, with a conception rate of 1.8

Lambing: In March/April with the majority lambing outdoors

Post lambing management – Lambs are weaned at 100 days. Commercial lambs are sold directly to Randall Parker & Dunbia first drawn late June through to September, with 88% grading R and above.

What excites you about the project?

“I feel it is important to be involved in this project because we feel that having a standardized terminal sire index should be of great use to commercial producers. Anything that helps sheep farmers to increase margins must be welcomed” said Duncan.