20 October 1995

How sucklers get an

even break…

Keen to improve sheep or suckler profits? Then source potential sires on their estimated breeding values (EBVs) based on best linear unbiased prediction (BLUP) analysis. The calculation is a clear pointer to genetic value and performance potential. Stock bred by sires with above average EBVs are delivering improved cash margins on farm.

Details used to calculate EBVs are compiled using Signets Sheepbreeder and Beefbreeder services which record growth and meating ability.

At Smithfield Farmtech four sire reference schemes are displaying rams which can secure commercial producers faster growing, leaner lambs. Beef groups are also demonstrating genetically superior stock. This progress has been achieved through AI, embryo transfer and by actively selecting stock with superior EBVs.

In the run-up to the event we preview each of the schemes on show.


Farmers attending next weeks Perth bull sales can attend special seminars at which the use of estimated breeding values (EBVs) will be explained.

The first seminar will be on Sunday (Oct 22) at 2pm within the Perth mart complex and will be repeated on Monday at 10am and Tuesday at 3pm. There is no charge and those attending will receive a new pocket-sized guide to EBVs.

The guide and the seminars come from Signet, a joint business venture by MLC and the Scottish Agricultural College.

Signet business manager Alan Mathieson says that with EBV information now available for more than 20 breeds and often displayed for individual animals at bull sales, the seminars and the guide will prove invaluable for farmers selecting stock sires this autumn.

"EBVs are calculated for all the most important commercial traits like birth weight, 200- and 400-day weights, back fat depth, muscle score and beef value," says Mr Mathieson.

"The relative importance of each EBV score will depend on the aims of individual breeding and finishing systems. Someone producing suckled calves should be most interested in birth and 200-day weights while a finisher would look to things like muscle score," he adds.

Copies of the guide to EBVs are obtainable from Signet on (01908-670339).

Another seminar during the sales will provide advice on transferring livestock quotas. It is being organised by Edinburgh solicitors W and J Burness on Monday at 5.30pm.

THE Accelerated South Devon Improvement Group (ASDIG) was founded in 1990 by five breeders who wanted to improve their herds through a group breeding scheme which incorporated embryo transfer techniques to speed up the rate of genetic improvement.

Although they selected replacements visually for a couple of years, best linear unbiased prediction (BLUP) soon became the selection tool. "It is the only system we have to evaluate cattle on their breeding traits, although personal preference will always play its part," says Charles Phillips, one of the founder members, and owner of the 40-head Macaroni herd at Macaroni Farm, Eastleach, Glos, with his wife Janie.

Mr Phillips admits the BLUP system is only as accurate as the information supplied to Signets Beefbreeder service, so it is up to individuals to record accurately. And the more who record herd performance, the more accurate beef values become.

There is a pool of 500 females within the group. About 30 cows or heifers with beef values over 30 are flushed each year. On average they each produce 3.37 embryos which are implanted in a recipient herd based at Macaroni Farm. Pregnancy rate varies between 60% and 65%.

Bulls used have beef values of 40 to 55, which is within the top 1% for the breed. Birth weight and muscularity are also considered when selecting sires.

Progeny remain at the farm for 12 months. During this time they are weighed and scanned under Signets Beefbreeder service. Calving ease is also recorded, with birth weights averaging at 47kg. As from next year this trait will be included in the overall beef value figure.

At this point there is a selection day at which about 10% of calves are culled for poor faults. The rest are sold back to group members. The calfs dams owner has first choice and can buy back that calf for the store market price, plus 20%. After that allocation is via a ballot system at the same price.

Health status is held in high esteem when export markets are to be exploited. All progeny and recipients are EBL attested, IBR monitored negative, BVD free and Lepto vaccinated.

Embryos and semen are collected from the top EBV animals for sale both in the UK and overseas. Initially the group was committed to a five-year investment plan, but now it is planned to be self financing through semen, embryo, and stock sales. For example, four ASDIG bulls were sold at the breed society sale at Exeter this week. "The future of ASDIG is dependent on the quality of stock we produce," says Mr Phillips. "It is vital we penetrate the commercial suckler herd market further with good bulls, to ensure the benefits of the breed are fully used."

The groups success can be seen by the increase in beef value (see diagram). "Improvement can be made by working together. The South Devon Herd Book Society is interested in what we are doing and sees groups like ours as one of the reasons the breed should go forward and compete with Continental breeds," he says. "After all, we are the only British breed that directly compares with the Continentals, and we have some traits very much in our favour – docility and temperament, growth rates and top quality carcass conformation."

Charles Phillips, managing director of ASDIG, with this years progeny and their recipient mothers. These calves are the result of embryos flushed from 30 cows with beef values exceeding 30 which were transferred to recipients at Macaroni Farm. They will stay here for 12 months when they are selected and sold back to the five group members at market price plus 20%.