By Farmers Weekly livestock reporters

BREED societies are voicing concern about Signets recording services, citing main worries as poor value for money, confusing data presentation and breeders receiving error strewn reports.

The need to provide better value for money is at the centre of complaints. Societies say the services – Beefbreeder and Sheepbreeder – cost too much for smaller breeders, preventing more herds and flocks recording.

Limousin secretary Ian Kerr says more breeders must be encouraged to record, but the service will only pick up if it is market-driven. “The service has to be significantly improved.”

It also has to provide better value, says Simmental secretary, Roger Trewhella.

“It is trying to struggle on and the service is not sustainable in its present format.”

Charolais secretary David Benson agrees: “The cost structure needs to be changed. We need to encourage smaller breeders to start recording, and have a price limit for larger herds.”

Responding to challenges, Signet general manager John Southgate says that changes are afoot. “We are looking at fee structures to bring in smaller breeders, as well as applying an upper limit.

“Also, we are changing the service so breeders can record without having to pay for a consultants services, which will cost less.

“But we are also trying to introduce greater use of ultrasound scanning for better conformation evaluation, and this will be available for about the same price as the current service.

“Recording and scanning will be undertaken by technicians. Consultancy will be available separately, and we are restructuring so specialist genetic consultants will be available who will understand breeds and promote genetic indices.”

Presentation of recording data is another concern for breed societies, says Mr Trewhella.

“How are commercial buyers to understand the difference between 0.2mm and 0.3mm of backfat?”

Some breed societies now illustrate EBV figures as a percentage of breed performance, a move first made by the Limousin society.

While Mr Southgate accepts that Signet did not think this option was required, he says it is now open to all breed societies.

“But we also need a major push on EBVs in the commercial sector. Some commercial producers understand it better than pedigree breeders, but the industry needs to work together to promote EBVs.”

Tackling breed society complaints that the service is strewn with errors, Mr Southgate says there are two types of mistake.

“The first is where theres too little data, producing low accuracy results. We need breeders to record as fully as possible to rectify this.

“The second type of error is a mistake, and they are pretty infrequent,” he says.

But Signet is to start using electronic data transfer to reduce mistakes. “We are also looking at sourcing some duplicated data such as pedigree and calf birth weight from breed societies.

“We are in talks with cattle breed societies to improve the service and are close to agreement, but we are just beginning to talk to sheep societies.”

Despite sharing some of the cattle breed societies grumbles about Signets service being poor value, societies are happy to help improve Sheepbreeder.

Texel chief executive, Steven McLean, says he has been in discussion with Signet and is pleased with progress.

“We want to see a wider uptake by breeders. Our main concerns are service cost and ways to make it more attractive to breeders.

“Questions have also been raised about the need for as much consultant input as present.”

Despite criticisms about value for money, Charollais chief executive, Jonathan Barber, says the three sire reference schemes – Suffolk, Charollais and Texel – are working closely together to improve the service.