Sheep incomes boosted by high-index rams

Sheep farmers using home-bred ewes by high-index rams are boosting incomes by nearly £20/ewe in trials unveiled at this week’s NSA ScotSheep event.

Quality Meat Scotland‘s Sheep Focus Farm Project has shown that the benefits of using high-performance rams, selected for maternal traits such as prolificacy and milk production as well as growth rate are cumulative and are carried through to the next generation.

The first two years of the ongoing trial on six commercial farms demonstrated a benefit of £10/ewe from the sale of lambs sired by high-index rams.

And the latest trials have demonstrated an advantage of £17.33/ewe for lambs from gimmers by high-index rams, compared with gimmers by low index tups.

Both groups of lambs were sired by high-index rams.

Geneticist Sam Boon of Signet said the gimmers by high-index rams produced 13% more lambs that were faster growing and reached slaughter weight 14 days earlier.

“That is a phenomenal difference and is a worth a lot of money to commercial sheep producers,” said Mr Boon.

He pointed out that the benefits could be worth as much as £2500-3000 from 50 daughters retained in a flock producing lambs over two or three years.

“These trait differences cannot be identified by eye, so performance recording is vitally important to identify rams with high-performance potential,” he said.

“There are few other areas of flock management that can produce so much real financial benefit in only two years.”

QMS livestock development manager Kathy Peebles said: “In each of the six sheep focus farms, the high-index-sired females outperformed the lower-index-sired gimmers and it was the maternal performance which made the difference.”.

“Benefits included more uniform batches of lambs that were heavier as stores, and for flocks producing for the meat trade, a reduction in the number of days to slaughter, allowing producers to better target the market.”

Scottish Sheep Strategy development manager Rod McKenzie advocated a three-fold approach to maximise the genetic potential of flocks rather than relying on the eye alone.

Problem ewes and their progeny should be ruthlessly culled, ewe lambs selected on size and performance, and underperforming lambs slaughtered. The early growth performance of both male and female lambs should be recorded to produce a ewe efficiency index, he said.

“We have found that the productivity of some ewes can be double that of their flockmates,” he said.

“It is an easy option for hill, upland and lowland farmers to buy high-index recorded rams with the traits they want to incorporate into the genetic base of their breeding replacements.”