11 September 1998

How to pick the best animal for the job

AS the ram is half the flock, producers must have a clear objective of what they require when buying a ram; is it increased carcass weight or weight gain, improved muscle depth or leanness?

All these traits and many more have heritability factors, the ability to be influenced by the animals genes, writes MLC sheep scientist Jenny Anderson. By looking at family histories, past performances can be assessed, rather like studying racehorse form.

The Sheepbreeder service, run by Signet, provides breeders with figures to select the best animals in their flock in terms of growth and carcass quality. The use of sire reference scheme rams allows the selection of superior animals on a within-breed basis, across all the flocks in the reference scheme. This is done through the use of BLUP, which allows computer programs to remove environmental factors, giving all animals the ability to be compared equally. Sheep can then be ranked in order of performance. Top performing – or high index – rams and semen are available from most of the sire reference schemes.

A high index ram can help ensure maximum economic return. Lambs sired by high index rams are ready for slaughter 11 days earlier, with 1.3% less fat, 0.1kg heavier carcass and 0.4% more saleable meat than those sired by rams with poorer genetics. This adds up to a benefit of £2 a lamb because of the higher carcass price.

So how much should you pay for a good ram? A survey was commissioned by the MLC to collect information on performance recorded ram purchases by sheep producers over the past season. In total, 513 producers throughout Britain were interviewed from 129 flocks of 100-299 breeding ewes, 101 flocks of 300-499 breeding ewes and 283 flocks of 500+ breeding ewes.

The national average price paid for stock rams over the season was £355. The average was highest in Scotland and the north, at £500 and £395, respectively. The lowest average price, £281, was paid in Wales.

As breeding ewe flock size increased the average price paid for a ram also rose. About 3% of producers said they paid between £50 and £99 for a stock ram, while 2% paid more than £1000. About 26% of producers surveyed did not buy a stock ram during last season, or did not state the price paid.

Of the producers interviewed, 27% had bought one or more performance recorded ram last season. The average number of performance recorded ram purchases made in a season was 0.86 on each farm. While 73% of producers did not buy any rams, 9% bought one, 5% two and the rest, 13% of sheep farmers, bought three or more performance recorded rams.

High index rams are available through the various breed SRS. The most popular breeds in Britain all have SRS holding sales of recorded rams in the autumn, and full details of these can be obtained from SRS secretaries.

When buying at market, ask vendors if the rams are recorded and have recording data; you would not buy a car without a full service history.

After buying a good ram, it must be looked after all year to ensure its full potential is available. &#42

Average price paid for a ram increased as flock size rose in a recent MLC survey, says Jenny Anderson.

SRSCONTACTNUMBERS

Texel Steven Maclean 01203-696629

Vendeen Adrian Tidswell 01455-220456

Suffolk David Hiam 01547-560246

Charollais Jonathan Barber 01953-603335

Lleyn E Evans 01886-821431

Scottish Black Face Anne Welsh 01899-830225

Meatlinc Henry Fell 01652-618329

North Country Cheviot Will Morrison 01862-894014

Centurion (Dorset) Rob Shields 01392-434484