7 February 1997

WELSH MOUNTAIN MYTHS DISPELLED

There is now no justification for sticking to local sheep breeds and types, says a

Welsh ADAS researcher.

Robert Davies reports

THE claim that only certain local types of Welsh Mountain sheep are suitable for particular areas is being challenged at ADAS Pwllpeiran.

Lyn Powell, leader of the team doing the work, believes it is important to dispel myths that currently prevent the exchange of stock between areas of Wales, and between three group breeding and six ram performance test schemes all committed to improving the breed.

"The broader the selection base, the greater the scope for progress," he says. However, support for local type is so ingrained that breeders will only buy sheep bred locally. This is why some existing improvement schemes also operate within a relatively small geographic area.

All the schemes have the same objectives so, rather than working in isolation, there must be advantages from interacting when top quality animals are identified, he says. "Questions relating to the importance of local type must also be addressed before a sire referencing scheme for the breed can be introduced.

"As long as breeders prosper from catering for the niceties of a sheeps appearance there will be little capability for responding rapidly to the changing demands of the market," says Mr Powell.

To prove that there is now no justification for sticking to local types, stock were borrowed from all the improvement schemes for a complex crossing programme. A top-ranking ram came from each of three performance tests, and 12 ewes and two high-ranking rams were loaned by each of the group breeding schemes.

Multiple ovulation and embryo transfer was used in the autumn of 1996 to implant 300 ewes with single embryos, with all possible combinations of parentage represented. The exercise will be repeated this year and assessments made of both rams and females.

Mr Powell hopes that the work, funded over three years by £180,000 of EU Objective 5b cash, will lead to more co-operative breeding schemes that will speed the genetic improvement of the second most numerically important breed in the UK.

"We hope the information we generate will give breeders the confidence to give up putting so much emphasis on local type, which has bedevilled progress in the past, and encourage them to exchange top quality rams so that the whole breed can benefit when outstanding sheep are identified." &#42

Lyn Powell… a broader selection base means greater scope for progress with Welsh Mountain sheep, he says.