By Wendy Short North-east correspondent
USING muscle scoring as a selection tool in upland flocks can boost finished lamb returns by £2-£3/head – a gain the Northern Uplands Sheep Strategy is encouraging its members to take advantage of.
Nobody is more keen on the idea than the organisations chairman, Carl Stephenson, of Pikestone Farm, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham. He found that his top muscle scoring ram produced a batch of Mule lambs with 0.72kg more saleable meat a head than others reared alongside them.
"That additional 0.72kg/lamb brought me an extra £2-£3/head. There are many factors which affect profitability, but this is something producers have the power to change. I hope to buy high muscle scoring Swaledale rams in the future, but I suspect recorded animals will be hard to find."
The high-achieving group of 20 lambs were all twins and were run with 24 other animals by two of Mr Stephensons other rams. They were born in early April and weaned in mid-August onto aftermath grazing. With no supplementary feeding, the whole group was sold in late October, averaging 43kg liveweight.
The Bluefaced Leicester ram used on the group currently has the highest recorded score for the breed in the country, with 42.6mm of muscle. It was bought as a three-shear and originally came from James Porters noted Riddings flock in Reeth, North Yorks.
Mr Stephenson began recording muscle scores through NUSS in autumn 2000 and was surprised by what he found. "Swaledale ewes had an average score of 27-28mm, much higher than I had imagined. It is hard to tell how much muscle there is on a sheep until it is scanned. I found the bigger, longer-bodied sheep usually performed the best."
He is convinced that muscle scoring is a useful extra tool when selecting breeding stock. "It takes time to assess the whole flock at the start, but it can be done when sheep are brought in for other tasks. After the initial scan, it is simply a matter of scanning replacements every year," he says.
He now has a policy of removing any ewes which fall into the bottom 15% for muscle scoring from the breeding flock. *
Selecting rams using muscle scores has improved lamb margins by up to £3/head in Carl Stephensons flock.
To join NUSS, farmers must live between Derbys and the Scottish borders. They should also be keeping hill and longwool breeds. The service is currently free and the main aim is to improve the profitability of hill sheep production. Anyone wanting more information should telephone Alison Nicol at Signet Farm Business Consultancy (0131-535 3237).