COMMERCIAL sheep farmers in Scotland are always looking at ways of making their flocks more productive and one Ayrshire farming family may have found one of the best breeds for doing just that.

Ben Welsh, along with his father and son, who are both also called Ben, his mother, Elsie, and partner, Judith, of BE and B Welsh, Roundshaw Farm, Auchinleck, introduced the native Poll Dorset sheep onto their farm in 2016 and since then have all marvelled at just how productive and maternal the breed is.

With the assistance of his father and son (who he reckons is the 10th in the family’s line of Bens), he has built his Poll Dorset flock up to 30 head and they have so far proved to be a success for the Welsh team.

However, Poll Dorsets were not always the main focus for the family, as they were originally invested in Bluefaced Leicesters.

For the purpose of the article, we will refer to the three Bens as father Ben, Ben, and young Ben.

“We had Bluefaced Leicesters for 35 years and father Ben purchased our first Bluefaced Leicesters from Billy McIndoe, who was dispersing his flock at that time, before emigrating to Australia,” explained Ben.

“I then purchased my own first Blues from the Murdoch family, of Balgreen Farm, Dalrymple.

“The Blues certainly worked great for a while, as they were traditionally-bred, but then they started to change trend-wise and we weren’t as keen on the crossing type, and so we decided to look into purchasing Poll Dorsets.”

In 2016, father Ben and Ben purchased four Poll Dorset ewes and five Poll Dorset ewe-lambs at Carlisle, from EM Eglin and Son, based in Warwickshire, and at that time, Poll Dorsets hardly even existed in Scotland, and were not very well-known.

However, the Welsh family had looked into the breed, and decided it would be the perfect choice for them, for a variety of reasons.

Ben explained: “First of all, one of the main reasons that the breed is so popular is because they can lamb up to three times over the course of two years, and they lamb very easily.

“A lot of people with the Dorsets will lamb in September, then April, then December, so the potential is there to get three crops within two years, before they start again the following September.

“The first cross Dorset ewe-lamb that is produced also retains the early lambing gene, so you are also starting to see commercial boys using Dorset tups over Texel ewes, for example, so that they can keep replacements and also have a stronger lamb come sale time.”

Another benefit of the Poll Dorset is its maternal instinct, something which Ben is delighted with.

He continued: “Dorsets are tremendous mothers at lambing time and so milky, and their maternal instinct is just unbelievable, particularly for the likes of twinning on – they will honestly happily feed anything.

“The first year we had the Dorsets, we had a Bluefaced Leicester ewe which lambed in the January, but had no milk, and the lamb went straight to one of the Dorset ewes, which, bearing in mind, had lambed in October, and started to feed right away with no issues – it was remarkable to see.”

At present, the Welshs have around 30 pure ewes and 12 ewe hoggs, but have not yet quite embraced the three to two lambing ratio, although they have had three crops of lambs since implementing the breed at Roundshaw.

“We have been trying not to lamb them three times over two years so far, so that we can establish the flock a bit and see what ones we would like to keep pure or put commercial, but hopefully we will do this successfully in the future,” said Ben.

This year saw a scanning rate of 195% for Roundshaw’s Poll Dorsets, which was mainly made up of twins, with only one set of triplets.

For now, the stock tup that is used by the Welsh family is Downkillybeg’s Watson, which was bred by W and K Carson, of Ballymena, and which was purchased from the partnership of Graham Cubitt and Michael and Catherine Maybin, both from Ballymena, who used him to breed pure-breds.

Ben commented: “Our stock tup has so far bred tremendous and his previous lambs have also shown and sold well.”

As for the future of the flock, the three Bens have big plans, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a big flock.

“We don’t want to go huge as we don’t have the ground for it here, and we feel that keeping the flock size between 30 and 40 head will allow us to focus on keeping them at a good quality,” Ben said.

“You often find that Dorset breeders either keep their flocks quite small or quite large, so we are therefore quite comfortable with the 30 to 40 mark.”

Young Ben also has one Poll Dorset ewe and two horned Poll Dorset ewe hoggs, both of which came from A Birch, of High Rakes, on which, he commented: “I’ve always wanted Blackies, so I guess this is a compromise!” – and he has plans to expand his own flock in the future.

A number of Roundshaw’s Poll Dorset tups have also been sold to commercial flocks to produce fat lambs for quick finishing, and the three Bens hope to continue this as the flock develops in the future.

As well as the Poll Dorsets, and one token Bluefaced Leicester ewe, the Welshs also have some Charmoise ewes, which is an other breed they hope to develop at Roundshaw.

They also have exhibition poultry and own a variety of different breeds of bantams, as well as a herd of pedigree Hereford cattle.

Currently, there are 10 cows at Roundshaw, which are spring calving, with all bulls being sold privately, while the heifers are kept.

The team purchase all of their bulls from John Douglas, of Ervie Herefords, Stranraer, and it is their hope to show them more this year, if possible.

Ben concluded: “We are hoping to get to a lot more shows this year, if we can, particularly the Great Yorkshire. “I think this is a fantastic opportunity to show people what the Poll Dorset is actually like, and also give them a bit more of an insight into the breed – they are so productive and maternal, and not just a fluffy pet, even though they are very cute, so hopefully we can achieve that and get more people involved in the breed, particularly in Scotland.”