Breeding, marketing and impending legislation were all to the fore at last week’s Sheep Event 2008, Malvern. Jonathan Long and Sarah Trickett report

Increasing financial returns by using better genetics in commercial lamb production was the key message from EBLEX Sheep Better Returns Programme at the Sheep Event, Malvern.

Explaining the huge difference in potential breeding strategies, was EBLEX breeding manager, Sam Boon, who said looking across flock analyses was critical for producers to select across the breed.

Better genetics

Giant cheques were fixed to pens holding rams of high genetic merit, emphasising the point of increasing financial returns by better genetics.

“The idea of the cheques was to show producers the actual value of high genetic rams compared to an average animal,” said Mr Boon.

Producers should be looking at rams in the top 25% of index. However, it is important to drill down into the EBVs for detail, getting the right ram for the right system.

“Comparing a Poll Dorset ram with an average index of 100 and one with an index in the top 25% 341 results in an extra £568 of income over a ram’s lifetime. This is a lot more cost-effective as, although high-genetic rams are more expensive, they don’t normally exceed the amount of profit returned,” he said.

Maternal indexes

Mr Boon also went on to talk about the importance not only of terminal sire traits, but also maternal indexes.

“Maternal traits such as litter size and milking ability are critical in determining how many lambs are reared and how prolific breeding replacements will be. The maternal message has taken longer for producers to absorb than the terminal-sire message. However, changes in subsidies mean people are focusing more on maternal traits, rearing more productive ewes to rear more lambs.

“There is a demand for recorded rams with good EBVs and, to increase financial returns, the genetics must be looked at.”