Performance testing makes sheep breeding a science

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Sheep producers have been slow to commit to using performance recording as a method of improving their financial returns but one of the enthusiasts for using breeding figures yesterday claimed that there could be a bonus of around £1,000 per ram from doing so.

Samuel Boon, who is manager for Signet, which carries out most of the recording work, said there were a number of reasons why commercial sheep producers should buy rams with high estimated breeding values.

“Increased growth rates, reduced days to slaughter and improvements in carcase conformation can all be achieved and there are also a number of side benefits such as the lambs eating less grass in their shorter lifetime,” he said.

He was speaking at the publication of the results of the second year of the Quality Meat Scotland Scottish Sheep Strategy Better Breeding project.

The conclusion of the two years of results for Suffolk-sired lambs under variable weather conditions showed that in almost every case the progeny of performance recorded rams with high indices was better than those selected purely by eye. “There is a really positive message there. The fact that these results have been replicated on a number of farms and in different seasons strengthens the message,” said Boon.

“It shows that an investment in superior genetics is an important way for sheep producers to increase flock returns.”

With more than 700 pedigree sheep breeders recording in the UK, 200 in Scotland, he believed the industry was now taking notice of the improvements that could be achieved.

He admitted that some breeds have made a bigger commitment to performance recording, with Llyens and Texels increasing their numbers recently while Charollais and Suffolks have remained the same over the past two seasons.

Commenting on the Suffolk project, Maimie Paterson, chair of the Scottish Sheep Strategy Group, said that, after the very difficult final quarter of 2012 and the difficult start to 2013, sheep producers had “to use every tool available to help improve our margins”.

“The results of the project show, without a doubt, that the financial benefits of performance recorded animals are very real and simply cannot be ignored,” he said.

The three farms selected as Suffolk focus farms were: Morrisons Farm at Dumfries House; Kings Arms Farm, Ballantrae; and Wellheads Farm at Huntly.

“The results from two consecutive years involving 1,300 lambs show that the trend is in favour of the high performance sires. Although in the second year at Wellheads the results have been in favour of the Farm Choice tups, which were selected purely by eye,” said Kathy Peebles, QMS livestock development officer.

She added this occasionally happened as had been demonstrated in the first year of another trial with Texel tups. “However, the cumulative trials show the odds are definitely in favour of the performance recorded sire.”

Overall financial results over the two years showed a benefit per lamb from high performance Suffolk tups on Mule ewes, ranging from £0.55 to £3.09.