27 October 1995

Charollais scheme is vindicated…

In the second of our series on performance recording, Rebecca Austin reports on progress made by the White Rose Limousin group and the Charollais sire reference scheme

LAST weekend, 90 in-lamb Charollais ewes were sold at Malvern, Worcs. For the first time, each consignment of ewes had its index declared in the catalogue. Good-looking sheep with a high index sold at the top end of the market.

For example, the sale averaged at £352. A ewe with an index of 155 made 1850gns and one with an index of 129 sold for £300.

The Charollais sire reference scheme started with 12 breeders and 1200 ewes in 1989. It now boasts 24 flocks comprising 2500 ewes.

The schemes objective is to increase total lean meat yield and to maximise the growth rate of the Charollais.

Progress, measured as an index, can be followed in the graph. At the start the schemes average index was 100. It is 130 this year.

Jonathan Barber, the schemes managing director, says buyers are prepared to pay more for a ram with a high index.

He and his wife Carroll run 280 ewes at Crogham Farm, Wymond-ham, Norfolk, and are scheme members. This year they set a base price of £300 for any of their rams with an index of 100. Any ram with a higher index sold for £2 more every point above that base.

All members of the scheme take part in Signets Sheepbreeder scheme. Once the lamb crops performance figures have been analysed by Signet and converted into estimated breeding values (EBVs) for individual traits and an overall index produced, the scheme holds its selection day.

Members bring the top 10% of lambs together. These will have an index above 190 and be physically correct. This year only those with an EBV two points above the average for muscling were eligible.

"We have always picked the biggest lambs before, which means they have high growth rates. We now appreciate the importance of muscling," says Mr Barber.

Selected ram lambs have 300 to 500 doses of semen taken and frozen. They are then used in the breeders flock and re-selected as shearlings.

The schemes aims are fairly static for a while, although it is investigating differences in eating quality between lean and fat lambs. "At the moment we are concentrating on gaining figures from commercial situations and making sure commercial breeders understand the value of EBVs," says Mr Barber.

Raw data emerging from the on-going trial at Pencoed College in Wales is reinforcing this point. It involves a commercial flock served by two high and two low index rams. Although there appears to be little variation in birth weight and carcass weight, high index rams are paying the College better and reaching slaughter weights more quickly.

A high index ram used in 1994s lambing sired lambs which were finished in 107 days and fetched £57.31 a head. Low index ram progeny took 122 days to finish and only made £47.89 each.