Serving the Farming Industry across the Midlands for 35 Years
A Lincolnshire couple who started with modest beginnings have built a sizeable sheep flock and created an award-winning retail food brand. Chris and Louise... Lincolnshire couple create award-winning lamb brand

A Lincolnshire couple who started with modest beginnings have built a sizeable sheep flock and created an award-winning retail food brand.

Chris and Louise Elkington bought their first 30 sheep a decade ago. Today, they have a flock of breeding ewes and market every lamb reared through their Gelston Lamb brand, based at Chestnut Farm near Grantham.

The flock extends to some 500 ewes. Breeding is based largely on the Lleyn. But also includes Roussin, Highlander and Aberfield genetics, with the Charollais also used as a terminal sire.

Lambing runs from the end of February through to the end of May, with 200 lambed indoors and 300 lambed outdoors. It’s an extended lambing period, says Chris, but helps the farm meet the demands of the retail market.

“We’re supplying our own fresh produce all year round, so with new lambs arriving over a three-month period we’re better able to manage the throughput,” he says.

“We’re aiming for a 19-20kg carcase, so nothing too big, in order to produce affordable cuts for our customers. Lambs from terminal sires will finish earlier and then slower growing lambs will run around and be finished as hoggets, so we try to always have some lambs at the right stage.”

The enterprise includes an on-farm butchery, online sales, a pop-up shop. Demand for Gelston Lamb is growing and there’s a strong drive to maximise the number of lambs produced.

Lambing percentage

Increasing the flock’s scanning percentage form 170% to 180% been a stated aim during the farm’s period as an AHDB Strategic Farm (2019-2023). But minimising lamb losses is equally important.

“One big area of improvement has been to stop breeding from ewe lambs, as this was certainly dragging the scanning percentage down, and we’ve also increased the ratio of tups to ewes.

“Even during the dry summer of 2022, we’ve seen significant improvements from these changes. We’re also tweaking the breeding, like increasing our use of Highlander genetics, for example, to improve prolificacy.”

The indoor group is supplemented prior to lambing, with an 18% protein pellet being stepped up from about four weeks out. Outdoor lambers are not routinely supplemented, though may have sugar beet if needed.

Twin lamb disease isn’t a common problem. But when symptoms are spotted Nettex Multi Lamb Rapid provides a fast-acting energy source to help restore ewes to full health.

Energy levels

“We do have the occasional incident that occurs if there has been a tough lambing in rougher conditions. It’s good to have a rapid energy source on hand to get energy levels in ewes up quickly to help with recovery,” he says.

The indoor lambing routine is all about maintaining hygiene, so individual lambing pens and mothering pens are continually cleaned out, with powdered lime used between events to help keep infection at bay.

Navels are dipped with iodine, and the aim is to keep the ewes and lambs moving and have them outside as soon as possible, marked, tailed and the male lambs all castrated.

The outdoor lambing routine is more hands-off, with ewes checked every few hours but largely left to lamb and mother-up by themselves. Losses are lower in the outdoor group with ewes in the right condition able to give plenty of good quality colostrum.

When ewes are lacking, Nettex Ultra Concentrate Colostrum is used if other options – such as wet adoption – are not possible. “Because it is full fat and easy to mix, it is ideal for when ewe colostrum is not available.”

Spring and summer grazing is largely made up of diverse herbal leys, including clovers, plantain, chicory, sainfoin and yarrow, in addition to ryegrass and other grass species.

From tupping time and into the winter months, the ewes are grazed on stubble turnips grown on arable ground away from the farm. It works well, bringing ewes through to lambing in the optimum condition.

Since September 2019, the Elkington’s have run their own butchery on the farm and now produce an array of lamb-based cuts and dishes available online. They won a Taste of Excellence Producer of the Year award in 2021 and now also have four products with Great Taste stars – including their lamb racks which gained the top award of three stars.