Better growth rates and
achieving higher prices are
the outcomes of using
performance recorded rams
in one North Yorks flock.
Jeremy Hunt reports
PERFORMANCE recorded rams are being used in a North Yorks flock to ensure January-born lambs achieve their optimum growth rate and hit the short-term high prices of the Easter to early-May market.
But although high index Suffolks have been used as terminal sires for 10 years by the Dixon family at Salton Grange Farm, Sinnington, York, the farm also runs recorded Charollais tups with North of England Mule ewes to produce breeding females for its March lambing flock.
"We are seeing the benefits of recorded rams coming through in both flocks but its the high cost operation of the early lambers where we really need to capitalise on performance and efficient growth. We have to make sure our prime lambs hit the market at exactly the right time in order to catch the best possible price," says Winston Dixon, who farms with his wife Beatrice, son Richard and daughter Caroline.
"Using recorded rams has taken the guesswork out of sire selection and since we have been basing our ram buying on figures, our lamb performance has improved dramatically. Our lambs are now finishing about two weeks earlier."
There are 60 early-lambing Suffolk x Scotch half-bred ewes and 200 March-lambers – predominantly Charollais x Mules – at the 42ha (100 acre) Salton Grange Farm which is run in conjunction with another 42ha (100 acres) at nearby Garforth Hall Farm, Ryton, Malton. About 53ha (130 acres) is down to arable cropping.
"Gone are the days when I would spend money on a Suffolk tup that might look OK but which was basically just a bundle of wool and a black head," says Mr Dixon.
Mr Dixon has paid up to £750 for Suffolk rams but says performance recorded sires are readily available at similar prices paid for those without figures.
Last year two Suffolk ram lambs were bought for just £250 and £220. They had scheme index figures of 246 and 253 – the breeds 1999 average index was 164. The rams had high muscle scores of 3.34 and 3.46 respectively – 12% above breed average – and had shown a 15% increase in growth rate compared with the breed schemes base figure set in 1990.
Mr Dixon always studies the figures of potential ram purchases before making a visual assessment. "We do not check-weigh our prime lambs but there is absolutely no doubt that we are achieving a much faster and more even growth rate and getting bigger and leaner lambs since we concentrated on performance recorded sires. And we are getting lambs away on target."
All lambs are sold through North Country Primestock. Grading sheets from last year are impressive. A draw of 15 lambs on May 3 saw 14 lambs grade U with the most U3L. Average weight was 20kg and the average price was £50.90. And ensuring flock replacements benefit from high performance traits has seen the Dixons use the same criteria in selecting Charollais rams for use on Mule ewes. Tups have been bought from the Scratchmere flock of Brian Atkinson at Penrith as well as from Norfolk breeders Jonathan and Carroll Barbers Crogham flock.
"The influence of the recorded Charollais rams is coming through in our replacements which are big, good-shaped gimmers."
Mr Dixon is hoping for about £60 for his early lambs this season. "Its essential that our lambs have a high genetic potential for growth. We will have 80-90 lambs to sell between April and early May. We dont want to find ourselves with lambs on our hands when the price starts tumbling in early June."
• Better sire selection.
• Improved performance.
• Boosts flock returns.
Winston and Beatrice Dixon believe performance recorded rams are helping boost returns from their