12 April 2002

Carcass quality improvements go unrewarded

By Robert Davies Wales correspondent

THE meat trade is failing to properly reward breeders trying to improve lamb carcass quality, according to a producer in west Wales who has been experimenting with different ewe crosses.

Since Wendy Rowland moved from Wilts to Bryn Owen, Henllan Amgoed, Carmarthenshire, in 1998, when her husband Doug retired from the merchant navy, she has concentrated on producing high quality finished lambs.

She realised from the outset that this and going for reasonably high flock productivity were essential to optimise returns from the small number of ewes she could run on the 17ha (42 acre) smallholding.

"I wanted ewes that consistently produced twins, but not litters, so were fairly easy to manage. I also realised that it was important to sell as many lambs as possible classifying E and U for conformation," says Mrs Rowland.

While still working as a nurse in Wilts, Mrs Rowland ran a small flock of Lleyns. More were bought for the new holding and they proved productive. While purebred lambs sold fairly well at auction, Mrs Rowland found they graded R or worse on the hook.

Because she wanted to take advantage of deadweight classification premiums, she decided crossing was the answer. Using Texel tups improved things, but not enough. Now only 20% of ewes are pure Lleyns. After trying a variety of crosses and back crosses, she believes the Texel-Lleyn first cross ewe is ideal.

One-eighth Texel crosses had variable fleeces and a tendency to produce freemartins. Those with 25% Texel genes looked good, but proved prone to orf related mastitis.

"Because we have so few sheep, I was able to monitor different crosses in detail. Lambs out of first cross ewes are very lively and hardy. We winter shear ewes and the thicker coats of Texel crosses are certainly beneficial at turnout. The crossbreds are better doers, have well shaped udders and are more resistant to mastitis than pure Lleyns.

"They are hardier than Lleyns and consume the same amount of feed, despite their larger frames. Generally, they can be trusted to produce lambs which grade in fat classes 2 and 3L."

Mrs Rowland would like to use a Charollais terminal sire to get earlier maturing lambs, but is worried lambs might not be hardy enough to cope with conditions on the exposed farm. Instead she is using Texel sires.

Increasing the proportion of Texel genes in lambs lengthens the time taken to finish them, but invariably improves carcass quality. To build on the improvements, Mrs Rowland has been attempting to identify ewes and tups with the best carcass traits, but she claims abattoirs have frustrated her efforts.

"I really need to know how individual lambs classify. This information was available when we were in Wilts, but I have not found an abattoir locally that is prepared to link grading results to individual ear tag numbers.

"Abattoirs are not willing to co-operate by providing this useful flock improvement tool are not helping producers improve carcass conformation.

"After trying so hard to produce what butchers demand, I was very disappointed by grading results and killing out percentages during the foot-and-mouth crisis.

"Abattoirs were in control while markets were closed and I have no doubt graders took advantage of the situation because breeders were prevented from following lambs along the line.

"With just 100 ewes some might say we are hobby farmers, but we try to run our small flock on commercial lines and deserve to be properly rewarded for turning out the type of lamb the trade says it wants.

"We have suspended flock monitoring because the effort is just not worthwhile. Now we have invested in the Farmers First Group to take advantage of their promise of honest weights and grades.

"But Kenilworth, in Warks, is a very long way to send lambs for slaughter and we will have to look closely at the bottom line." &#42

Doug and Wendy Rowland want lambs to grade well, so are using a Texel tup on Texel-cross Lleyn ewes. But local abattoirs are not helping thier cause

&#8226 Best from first cross ewe.

&#8226 Texel tup used.

&#8226 No individual lamb results.