17 August 2001

Referencing indicates progeny performance

Breeds with well established

sire referencing schemes will

be able to offer ram buyers

figures to indicate progeny

performance, in what is set

to be a difficult year to

select replacements.

Jeremy Hunt reports

PRIME lamb producers forced into buying rams privately this season should grasp the opportunity to factor performance figures into their selection.

Yorks Texel breeders John Haigh and Harry Whitwam believe ram buyers should offset the difficulties of not being able to select tups at autumn sales by using sire index figures as a guarantee of superior performance (see p36).

"Its going to be a difficult ram buying season from a logistical and bio-security point of view. But when you factor figures into your selection, particularly when youre buying unseen, at least you know the ram has the genetics to do the job," says Mr Haigh.

The cousins were among the first UK breeders to join the Texel Sire Reference Scheme, 10 years ago. They run the Wholestone flock of about 50 ewes on their poultry unit at Harden Road Farm, Golcar, Huddersfield.

Through careful selection, they have achieved some of the highest indexes ever recorded for Texel rams and females in the breed societys sire reference scheme.

The current aim is to use rams with an index of more than 300, although one tup used last autumn had one of the highest indexes in the breed at 330.

The partnership has won tremendous support from buyers at the main Builth Wells ram sale. Last year, they sold 15 shearlings to average 560gns and reached a flock best of 1400gns.

This year, four Wholestone tups have been bought by ADAS for commercial lamb trials at its research farm at Rosemaund, Herefordshire.

Sheep at the cousins unit run on hill land rising to 360m (1200ft), while the farm doesnt see any appreciable grass growth until May.

The entire flock is AId in mid-September for a mid-February lambing. Mr Haigh and Mr Whitwam consider AI as the most efficient way of making rapid genetic progress through the use of high index rams.

In late July, ewes are treated with melatonin and receive a multi-vitamin boost prior to sponging on about Sept 11. Frozen semen is used, although fresh semen is collected from high-index stock rams. Conception rates up to 90% have been achieved with frozen semen.

"We are very careful about managing and handling ewes during the breeding cycle to try and achieve as high a conception rate as possible. We keep them quiet to minimise any stress during this time," says Mr Whitwam.

"The melatonin and multi-vitamin treatment seems to work well for us." Lambing percentage is about 180%.

Good autumn grazing to maintain ewe condition is important. Only ewes carrying twins or triplets receive any supplementary feed prior to lambing. Even then its barely 120g/head in the final three weeks.

Ewes are housed at Christmas, with all shearling ewes clipped. They are then fed a strictly controlled amount of hay.

"Its a job to strike a happy medium on feeding prior to lambing, but its vital not to give too much," says Mr Haigh. "After lambing we go all out and feed for milk."

TEXELSIRES

&#8226 Recording for 10 years.

&#8226 Selection performance based.

&#8226 Faster growing lambs.