Young Farmer inspired by the qualities of the Southdown

Farmland rent prices occupy Max Welton’s thoughts as he seeks to expand his pedigree flock
of Southdowns. 

Max Welton favours the quality of his New Zealand bloodlines

Max Welton favours the quality of his New Zealand bloodlines

Competition  for  land  in  rural Carmarthenshire is intense so, with even the poorer grassland commanding £100 an acre, his expansion plans are on hold for now.

What sets Max apart from every other farmer in this position is his age; this is a young man who acquired  his  first  Southdown  ram  at  the  tender age of seven years and now, aged just 15, runs 22 pedigree breeding ewes at his parents’farm near Llangadog.

Max admits his interest in sheep sets him apart from his peer group.

He has no interest in social media, taking selfies and  all  the  other  technology  stuff  that occupies the lives of teenagers, preferring to use spare time  away  from  the  classroom managing and improving the Gilfach flock.

Max’s interest in sheep began long before he bought his first ram. His parents, Steve and Penny, have  a  large  commercial  flock  and  young  Max used pester power to persuade them to buy him three Zwartble ewes when he was seven. He  then  raided  his  piggy  bank  and bought  a Southdown ram to grow his flock. 

Max bred from these for a few years but, with little demand  for  the  offspring  for  breeding, coupled with the need to feed the Zwartbles throughout the year, he sold the sheep and replaced them with four Southdown ewes.

“I knew quite a bit about Southdowns because we had family friends who had these so I
thought I would have a go at breeding rams from Southdowns,’’he recalls. 

“They suited what I was looking for in a sheep because  they  thrive  off  hardly  anything  and  are easy to handle and care for.’’

Artificial Insemination provides a leap forward

Max made slow progress at growing numbers because he had few ewe lamb replacements but in 2016 he took a leap forward by using artificial insemination.

“I got approached to swap my ram for semen that a breeder had imported from New Zealand,’’ he says. “She had bought the semen to use on her  Suffolks  but  decided  that  she  wanted  a ram instead.’’ That semen was from a Clifton Downs ram which had sold for $16,000. 

Ten ewes were inseminated but Max’s plans were scuppered by one of his father’s Texel rams. “The ram broke in with my ewes and when the lambs were born only half of them were Southdowns!’’

But those that did produce lambs from the Southdown semen did not disappoint. “They were
longer than the ones that we had and that was the direction I want to move in.’’

He  lambed  the  first  of  these  in  February  2017, selling ram lambs for an average of £150 a piece and shearlings for £300.

South are good mothers

Max Welton's Gilfach flock.  

Max Welton's Gilfach flock.

Max says the Southdown is a good mother and protective  of  her  lambs. “The ewe is milky and although she won’t go for you in the pen she is very cautious about having anyone near her lambs.’’

Lambing  is  also  straightforward. “We never have to assist with lambing,’’says Max.

In the spring of 2017, his family relocated from Hereford, where they had been renting a farm, to Llanddeusant near Llangadog, where they bought 280-acre Gilfach Farm.

Max admits the move was a stressful period. “We were lambing at the time because the move had been pushed back and we had ewes at lots of different locations.’’

But  both  sheep  and  their  owners  have  adjusted well to the move. “The Southdowns are thriving. I tupped them in a woody area on the farm, they are the sort of breed that can be run in quite challenging environments,’’says Max.

He  tups  from  September  30th, keeping the rams with the ewes for four weeks. 

Because Max buys in ewes, he tries to use his own rams as much as possible, however, he bought a Chaileybrook ram which he has used and is very happy with.

The flock mostly scans at over 180%. 

The ewes lamb indoors from February 10th. Because they require so little input, Max manages the  lambing  before  and  after  school  with  his parents keeping an eye on the animals for him during the day. 

One ewe produced a surprise in 2016 –quads. “All four survived for a couple of days but after that we sadly lost two.’’ One  of  the  quad  rams  was used for tupping in 2017.

Ewes and lambs are turned out soon after lambing and  left  alone  until  weaning.  Well grown lambs are  sold  off  their  mothers  and  go  straight  to the  abattoir;  later  in  the season lambs  are  sold through a market.

Lambs are sheared at four months to encourage growth  and  the  wool  sold  to  Devon-based Southdown duvet supplier Jessica Cross.

Max advocates a tough cull policy

Any ram lambs with bad feet are culled. “You have got to be harsh with feet,’’says Max. He also culls animals that don’t have the length he targets.

Max’s plan for 2018 is to register with the Southdown Signet Group to scan for muscle and
fat. “Customers don’t want to buy sheep based on what they look like, these days they want figures.’’

Apart from the lambing period, the flock doesn’t take  up  too  much  of  his  time. “I check on the sheep but never really have to touch them and I hardly ever feed them.

“When I do give them a bit of feed, before lambing, I do this in the morning then get all the other jobs done when I get home from school.’’

School is Bro Dinefwr at nearby Llandeilo. He plans to further his education at agricultural college and to then venture overseas for a while to shear.

Making a name for himself

Max is keen to accelerate improvements within his flock.

Max is keen to accelerate improvements within his flock.

Max has already made a name for himself among Southdown breeders. In 2017, he won the Southdown Sheep Society’s newcomer  flock competition; also the Paynter Wool Trophy for the flock with the best wool.

In  2018  he  is  aiming  to  AI  the  entire  flock  to accelerate improvement. “I still have a few short ewes and want to increase the length overall. I also want to increase numbers.’’

But  to  increase  numbers  he  will  need  to  find more land - Steve and Penny have a flock of 1200 Lleyn,  Poll  Dorset  and  Cheviot  ewes.  They  don’t charge Max rent for his ewes –he provides labour in return - but are drawing the line at further expansion.

“I’m hoping to take on some land but it isn’t easy to come by and the figures have to stack up,’’says Max.

He admits he first went into breeding Southdowns as a hobby but quickly came to realise the potential of the breed.

“Southdowns were the original terminal breed. Their popularity dwindled but now people are
rediscovering  their  potential  for  finishing  on forage-based systems. 

“They are fast growing and can be sold off their mothers without the need for supplementary

“Dad has used my rams on over 300 ewes this year and a few of my rams have been sold to family friends to be used over different breeds. I’m very excited to see the results!’’