7 May 1999

USING TOP TUPS DOES PAY OFF IN PRACTICE IN ESSEX

SPENDING extra money on high index tups this season might appear to be fools logic. It isnt, as producing more kg a lamb is one way to ensure higher output from your ewes.

One Essex farm manager, pedigree breeder and commercial flockmaster has unusually been able to chart the progress in carcass quality of his commercial lambs over the last six years, which are all progeny of high index pedigree Texel rams.

Richard Clay runs 325ha (800 acres) at Gaynes Park Farm, Theydon Garnon, Harlow, for the Chisenhale-Marsh family. He has 600 mid-February lambing commercial ewes and 100 pedigree Texels on 80ha (200 acres) of permanent pasture.

The commercial ewe flock is nearly pure Texel, says Mr Clay. "Originally they were Texel cross mules, but because we registered both flocks as MV accredited we had to begin breeding our own commercial replacement ewes."

Few pretensions

Despite having a pedigree flock thats part of the Sire Reference Scheme, Mr Clay has few pretensions in the show ring. "We go to a few shows, probably fewer now, because of the time it takes.

"Were not in business to breed the Royal Show winner, but to produce good terminal sires that will benefit commercial producers by breeding fast growing lambs that can be taken to heavier weights."

Every year Mr Clay uses his top 10-12 high index ram lambs on his commercial ewes, two of these last year were ranked second and third within the Texel SRS results. He also uses two high index shearling tups as cover for any mishaps.

"We only put the ram lambs in with the ewes for three weeks, so they dont become tired out and stop growing. And some buyers prefer a ram that has been used before."

Since 1992 most of his commercial lambs have been sold deadweight to Chittys of Guildford. They begin being finished off creep and grass in early May and will continue to be selected every week until harvest, when arable work takes priority.

"We make a commitment as part of Chittys special lamb group to supply a certain number of lambs during our marketing period.

"We are happy with this, as in return we have a lot of information about the grading and weights of our lambs."

Chittys carcass specification is 14.5kg to 22.5kg and they pay bonuses on grades. Mr Clay now aims for an average carcass weight for the season of 18kg.

In 1992 his lambs averaged 16.2kg and were slaughtered at 16 weeks old. In 1996 they averaged 18.3kg carcass weight being slaughtered at 15 weeks old.

"Using high-index rams means we have been able to improve average carcass weights of our commercial lambs without increasing their fat levels."

Top bracket

The conformation grades are a testament to that. In 1992 only 39% of his lambs fell into Chittys premium bracket, which are for top conformation grades. In 1996, 63% of his lambs were in that top bracket.

"The lambs average U for conformation grade, with a fair proportion of Es, and most lambs have a fat classification of 2-3L."

So the policy for the future is largely much of the same. "We do want to increase our lambing percentages, so we have tried breeding some Vendeen cross replacements to boost lamb numbers.

"We might try a Lleyn or Ile de France next to see how that works. It can be difficult being fully accredited. And we would prefer to source Mules again if we could find some MV accredited ewes.

"But we will carry on using high index rams because we want our lambs to average 19kg carcass weight and theres scope within the Chitty system to do this," says Mr Clay.

He doesnt share the view of some Texel SRS members who believe their sheep are being bred too lean under the Signet sheepbreeder scheme, with their progeny becoming difficult to finish.

"It suits our pedigree and commercial goals. We are unique in being able to follow our pedigree breeding decisions through into our commercial flock." And there is plenty of proof that it has worked. &#42

HIGH-INDEXTUPS

&#8226 Heavier carcass weights.

&#8226 Leaner lambs.

&#8226 More premiums.

Can the benefits of using high-index tups be proved?

James Garner investigates a commercial situation

where the science is put to test