HOW THE LEADING BREEDS ARE DOING
"We are aiming for heavier lambs which will get away more quickly," says David Hiam, secretary to the Suffolk SRS. "The overall index is the best measurement for lean meat on the carcass."
This years highest index lamb was bred by R Rutherford, Guards Farm, Gretna, Cumbria. It is by Holme Supersire and has a scheme index of 313. Its actual eight-week weight was 36kg. When 21 weeks old it weighed 84kg and scanned 39mm for muscle and 4.3mm fat.
"Our aim is fast growth at the same time as increasing lean meat yield of crossbred lambs sired by a Charollais," explains Jonathan Barber, the breeds SRS secretary.
"Because we have made progress improving growth rates, this year the aim is to encourage producers to select reference sires which have muscle EBVs in the top 10% (+2.4 EBV)."
This lamb crop the scheme has produced 350 ram lambs boasting an index exceeding 180. Highest overall scheme index is 310. The lamb was bred by L B Holliday, Mount St John, Thirsk, North Yorks. When scanned at 136 days old it recorded 31mm of muscle and 1.7mm of fat. Its eight-week weight was 19.3kg and at 21 weeks it recorded 48.5kg.
"We are focusing most of our attention on muscling," says Peter Johnson, the Texel SRS secretary. "And because the breed is so lean we just keep an eye on EBVs for fat."
This season there are over 300 SRS lambs with a scheme index over 179. The years top performer was bred by W & G Helyer at Bilbury, Salisbury, Wilts. It has an eight-week weight EBV of +2.86, a 21-week EBV of +6.73, an EBV of +3.87 for muscle and one of -0.30 for fat. The respective actual measurements are 29.5kg, 60kg, 36mm and 2mm.
"The Blackie makes up a large proportion of hill breeds and a third of the genes in slaughter lambs come from the hill breeds. We are, therefore, trying to produce an efficient sheep," explains Sandy Welsh, representing this SRS.
"We cant keep allowing costs and inputs to increase so we are looking for ewes which can rear as many lambs as the ground can cope with.
"Some breeders are looking for slightly more mature lamb size at the end of the day. Supermarkets demand 15.5kg to 18kg dw lambs but a lot of Blackface lambs are not making the bottom of that."
The beauty of BLUP for a breed such as the Blackface is that it removes all the variables which differentiate these hill and upland farms, says Mr Welsh. "The fact that we are part of the SRS means that it does not matter which farm the ewe or ram came from, they are all now linked," he says.
"And the biggest gain from recording is that we can now weed out all the poor doers."
"This year we have a broader scheme than before. It has great potential and incorporates abattoir results through progeny testing. This is helping us come to terms with which traits really are required by the market and its lean meat yield," says David Disney, the schemes secretary.
Growth rate is what most commercial farmers really want, he says. These breeders are, therefore, cautious that scan weight should be the primary objective for breed improvement. Ultimately this means selecting a large animal, rather than a quality one. So as a group these breeders are encouraging a cut in scan age because the animals are reaching slaughter age younger than 21 weeks. For example, his lambs are averaging 54kg when 124 days old.
Berrichon du Cher
This group have joined forces with Signet this year to add authenticity to their records.
But they have kept the same recording policy. This includes scanning and weighing at 18 weeks, rather than the conventional 21, purely for practical reasons. Members have also decided to include a visual appraisal in the overall index.
"We are also keen to progeny test selected rams on commercial ewes," says member Malcolm Yeo. "You have to remember those results are the bread and butter to the commercial man to whom we want to sell our stock."
North Country Cheviot
Maternal traits, such as prolificacy and milkiness, are the main areas of improvement targeted by the Caithness Premier Cheviot Breeders.
With this breeds lambing percentage standing at just over 200%, scheme members are not looking to improve this trait. Instead they are focusing their efforts on improving size and growth.
"There is no danger this breed will become too big, but if we want it to be a real competitor as a lowland ewe we must control these areas," says scheme chairman Bill Evans.
Although scanning for lean and muscling has been introduced this year, some members are concerned that selecting for these traits may inadvertently affect maternal ability.
But Mr Evans says the group as a whole is feeling bullish about its progress to date with the average scheme index improving by about 15 points each year. Other pedigree breeders showed their confidence in the scheme earlier this year when scheme stock was offered for sale for the first time at the society sale. The highest rated ram made 1600gns, compared with a ram average of about 400gns.
Of the 12 Poll Dorset lambs put forward for selection earlier this year, Jim Dufosees lamb, bred at Fascroft Farm, Warminster, Dorset, was deemed first choice. It has an across flock scheme index of 187 points. Next was a ram lamb bred by David Rossiter at Burton Farm, Kingsbridge, Devon, with a comparable index of 191.
This schemes objective is to breed top quality sires, selected to perform to high levels of growth and carcass merit, while still improving prolificacy and milkiness in the females and maintaining the ability to lamb regularly and naturally out of season.
"A lean carcass which is early maturing and of a high quality is the Meatlincs objective. Fat levels are staying constant while muscle scores go through the roof," states Henry Fell, who developed the breed in the early 1960s.
This is a breed where the discipline is not to feed concentrates before scanning at 120-130 days. On average lambs will be 50kg at 21 weeks. One of this years best lambs has a 21-week EBV of +4.0, a muscle EBV of +2.52 and a fat EBV of -0.08 to produce a overall index of 256.
"For the first time this year I have seen a common acceptance that this type of genetic improvement pays. Previously it was just the dairy and pig producers who could accept the concept," says Mr Fell. "There has been a sea change in attitude. I believe this is due to commercial progeny making more money and abattoirs becoming stricter on carcass quality." *