17 April 1998

EXTRA POTENTIAL OF £50m

WITH NEW BREEDING MOVE

ANNUAL sheep industry revenue could be improved by more than £50m under a new MAFF/MLC-funded breeding project.

Aimed at providing information to promote genetic improvement of carcass quality in crossing sheep and their progeny, the £1.2m project should help producers meet home and export market demands for quality.

At the end of the six-year trial, researchers involved will draw up a multi-trait selection index, which will allow breeders of cross sheep to improve carcass quality while maintaining maternal performance – a vital factor.

About three-quarters of project funding comes from MAFF, and several research organisations – the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, ADAS Pwllpeiran and Rosemaund, SAC and the Roslin Institute – are involved.

According to Will Haresign, of the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, Aberystwyth, the economic viability of UK sheep production is increasingly dependant on meeting exacting carcass quality requirements.

"The integration between hill, upland and lowland sectors in the UK means we all must work together to produce better quality carcasses."

Split into two phases, the project will look firstly at the performance of Mule wether lambs and then at breeding ability of retained ewe lambs.

For the first phase, genetic linkages will be established between a number of Bluefaced Leicester flocks in the breeds Sire Reference Scheme to supply performance recorded crossing rams. These will be mated with 4500 hill ewes over a three year period.

Mule wether lambs are to be assessed for growth and carcass traits using ultrasound scanning to measure fat and muscle depths and carcass dissection.

Ewe lambs will be retained for breeding, and will be assessed over three lambings for reproductive rate, maternal ability and health. Their progeny – sired by terminal rams – will also be assessed for growth and carcass quality, explains ADASs Mervyn Davies.

Although the trial will use the Bluefaced Leicester and its Mule progeny, researchers say that the results should be applicable to both crossing sire breeds and purebred lowland breeds where both carcass and maternal traits are economically important. &#42

Hill, upland and lowland sectors must work together to improve carcass quality. The MAFF and MLC-funded £1.2m project will develop a selection index allowing carcass improvement while retaining maternal ability.

CROSSBRED TRIAL

&#8226 Develop multi-trait selection index.

&#8226 Could improve revenue by £50m/year.

&#8226 Better carcass, maintain maternal ability.