Low lamb vigour in Suffolks is compromising the breed in the market, but breeders can select to improve the lamb viability by scoring lambs at birth for birth difficulty, vigour and sucking ability.

Cathy Dwyer, an animal behaviour specialist at SAC, said future funding would enable more research into the heritability of these traits so they could be included with the EBV data.

The research hoped to cover 1000 ewes lambing over three years.

Trials already conducted at SAC have shown that sires have a significant influence on lamb behaviour.

The progeny of poor quality rams took twice as long to stand compared with lambs by superior sires and three times as long to start sucking.

Dr Dwyer said trials at SAC over the past 12 years had shown that more than a third of Suffolk lambs needed assistance to suck from their dams at least once.

“For every 100 live lambs 78 minutes were spent delivering lambs and 28 hours were spent assisting lambs to suck.

This equates to a total labour input of 17 minutes a lamb.”

But there is considerable variation within the breed, with many lambs standing quickly and sucking unaided, she added.

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com