Tim and Louise Cooke are now nine months into their new farming challenge – having moved up to Scotland from Hampshire to take on the management of 900-acre Nether Laggan Farm on the 5000-acre Barwhillanty Estate in Kirkcudbrightshire.

The unit is a mix of upland and hill ground spread over five farms, on which they run 900 EasyCare ewes, plus 250 home-bred replacement ewe lambs, as well as 120 red deer.

Tim describes their experience as an exciting learning curve, but their first lambing went well, and the summer grazing season has been kind to them too.

“Unlike the on-going drought being experienced by many parts of the UK, we’ve had plenty of rain here over the summer months, so grass growth has been good. We were even able to wean quite a few lambs by the end of July and have been selling the Suffolk crosses steadily since then through the market at Castle Douglas,” he says.

“The EasyCare lambs have been harder to sell. We’ve not been able to sell these through the market because being small and narrow-shouldered, they are not as popular with live animal buyers, so these have been going deadweight. However, we’ve been surprised how well they have graded (mostly R3Ls) considering how simple they are to look after and it’s great to be earning some money back on them.”

Gimmer replacements have performed particularly well, despite the Cookes being worried soon after they arrived in Scotland about some being barren (40 out of 250) and the incidence of footrot in these new breeding sheep.

“In one group, we worked out that the lameness incidence was as high as 18%, which is above our flock target of 2% lame. But after treating them, culling persistent offenders hard and giving the remaining gimmers a primary vaccination course of Footvax, the situation is much improved. We vaccinated all 250 earlier in the year and only three of them have showed any signs of lameness this summer,” says Louise.

The Cookes have also vaccinated all their tups against footrot and culled the older ewes hard too. “We’re looking to the future and know that if we can get on top of the lameness issues now, we will reap the benefit in future years,” she adds.

Tim and Louise are now looking forward to managing their first breeding season. Seven new rams are on the way – four Exlanas and three Texels – to supplement the 18 tups they inherited from the previous shepherd. The tups are due to go out on October 27 – a week later than last year to delay lambing until student help is more available.

“We’re unsure about the fertility levels of our inherited tups, so will be testing them before the breeding season. We will also quarantine the seven incoming rams and followed all the SCOPS health guidelines,” says Louise.

Flock health planning advice is being sought from Gareth Boyes from the Ark Veterinary Group with vaccination, parasite management and mineral nutrition being important priorities.

“We always vaccinated our gimmers against the key infectious abortion causes (enzootic abortion and toxoplasmosis), so will be discussing what we should be doing here – particularly as so many gimmers were barren,” says Louise.

Over the last few months the couple has been dealing with flystrike – which has been quite bad and mainly in the Texel crosses while the EasyCares have been less susceptible and easier to look after – as well as worm control due to faecal egg count (FEC) off some fields.

They've also been mineral drenching when there is a copper shortage issue and the lambs that have been treated accordingly performed well subsequently. Ewes were also given a mineral bolus last month.

With plenty of decent grass available, ewes are in good condition and the Cookes will now be focusing on keeping them fit for tupping. They’ve also been able to make 450 bales of haylage to date, though some of this will be used to feed the deer herd over winter.

“We aim to run the flock off our forage acres and minimise the need for any bought in feed. Some of the prices being bandied about for proprietary compound feed this winter are scary, so we are naturally extremely keen to develop a hardy, low input, worm resistant, wool shedding, easy lambing flock and the Exlanas seem to fit the bill perfectly,” says Tim.

Tim and Louise Cooke are ambassadors for the MSD Animal Health Disease? Not on My Farm! initiative. Look out for quarterly updates in Scottish Farmer as the Cooke family tackles the challenge of taking on this new farm and flock management opportunity.