30 June 2000

Blue-faced has model role in carcass quality project

A project to improve the

carcass quality of

commercial ewe flocks will

provide essential data to aid

ram selection and will

ultimately have a big impact

on Mule performance.

Jeremy Hunt reports

HILL farmers in the north of England have a pivotal role to play in the future of the UK sheep industry.

By taking a positive attitude to using performance recorded Blue-faced Leicester rams they will not only improve their own incomes but also those of lowland flockmasters.

Although the Blue-faced Leicester is steeped in tradition – particularly concerning colour and skin – breeders, as well as farmers using rams on Swaledale ewes, must now embrace data on growth, carcass quality and conformation.

Mervyn Davies of ADAS Rosemaund, Worcs, is working on a collaborative breeding project to improve the carcass quality of crossbred breeding ewes. He told farmers in Cumbria that fewer than 50% of UK prime lambs were meeting quality standards demanded by domestic and export markets.

"The project aims to develop a selection index to improve carcass quality of longwool breeds and their progeny while maintaining reproductive performance and maternal ability," said Mr Davies. In the project, the Blue-faced Leicester is being used as a model for longwool breeds.

He was speaking to producers at an open day at Newton Rigg Colleges hill unit at Low Beckside Farm, Mungrisedale, where performance recorded Blue-faced Leicester rams are now being used on Swaledale ewes.

"This is the latest stage in the project and enables us to introduce the Swaledale into the evaluation; in the first three years of the production phase we have used 45 Blue-faced Leicester rams, with a range of indices, on 4500 Scottish Blackface and Hardy Speckled-face ewes at three sites in Wales."

All Mule ewe lambs bred in the project so far have been monitored for growth rate and scanned for fat and muscle depth; all Mule wether lambs have been assessed for carcass traits at point of slaughter.

As the project enters its evaluation phase, reproductive and maternal traits of the Mule females will be monitored and their progeny, by terminal sires, will be assessed for growth and carcass quality. "This project will eventually enable us to create a multi-trait index for crossing-sire breeds to help hill farmers improve their incomes by producing better Mule wether lambs. It will ensure Mule ewes, by performance recorded rams, move to lowland farms where their superior breeding ability will be quantified through their prime lamb progeny," said Mr Davies.

He urged Mule breeders to take advantage of the increasing number of performance recorded Blue-faced Leicester rams that were available. "As a growing number of Blue-faced Leicester flocks start to record their stocks performance its in the interests of the whole industry if commercial producers consider figures as an important part of their decision making when buying rams to produce Mule lambs.

"Indexed rams give the buyer confidence in the sires ability to transmit growth and carcass attributes, and these are traits we must now take account of when producing crossbred breeding ewes.

"My advice is combine figures with looks, style and other breed traits. It is a balancing act that will work to meet everyones needs."

BREEDING PROJECT

&#8226 Longwool breeds and progeny.

&#8226 Improve carcass quality.

&#8226 Maintain breeding performance.

High index Blue-faced Leicester rams are worth the money, say Dewi Jones (left) and Mervyn Davies.