A Texel tup that Mark Jarvis’s family and friends agree is extremely ugly is having a big beneficial impact on the conformation of finished lambs.
ANTUR Lumby Law was one of two high index rams bought at a sale of performance recorded rams at Aberystwyth in 2007 in a bid to improve lamb growth rates and carcass quality. Foot-and-mouth delayed the sale by a month and, as at other auctions held around that time, depressed prices.
Despite that, Mr Jarvis did not know how he would explain to his father Peter why he had bought a ram that many pedigree breeders might have sent for slaughter rather then offered for sale.
“On looks he would have been thrown out of any showring, but on paper he was the best ram there with an index of 335,” Mr Jarvis told farmers attending an open day at Gelli Goll, Llansannor, in the Vale of Glamorgan.
He and a friend paid 231gns for the ram, which they intended to share. But F&M restrictions meant he was only used on one farm, where he covered about 60 Welsh Mule and Suffolk x Mule ewes.
A recorded Pengelli Texel, with and index of 220 and looks with which an average pedigree breeder would have been happy, was also purchased at the sale for 250gns. A third high-quality, but non-indexed tup was also acquired at the time in a private deal with a local breeder.
Aspects of the performance of all three sires were compared at the open day, which was the last to be staged during the three years Gelli Goll was a Farming Connect/Hybu Cig Cymru demonstration farm.
Visitors heard that 91% of lambs from the highest index tup graded E,U or R 3L, compared with 79% of those sired by the second indexed tup and 76% of the progeny of the privately-bought ram.
Half the lambs out of the tup with an overall index of 220, which had the highest muscle depth EBV at the sale, classified U for conformation, compared with 19% of those sired by the local bought ram and 26% of the highest indexed tup.
“We sell deadweight and, obviously, we would like 100% of lambs from our 500 ewes to hit the target specification, but we are not producing cans of beans,” Mr Jarvis explained.
Just one season’s experience of using indexed rams has convinced him that figures signpost the way to collecting premium prices. He admitted he had always been wary of buying specially prepared rams at pedigree sales. “When you buy an indexed ram you get what it says on the tin.”
Visitors learned that the move to buying recorded rams was part of a wide-ranging programme designed to improve the post-weaning performance of lambs.
“Finishing performance was never really poor, it just lacked some edge. Our soils are red sandstone overlying limestone, so the first question was whether there was a mineral deficiency, though lambs had never shown clinical symptoms.”
As Peter Jarvis predicted, soil and blood tests proved negative, which let his son save money by no longer buying unnecessary mineral supplements. He then turned to his faecal egg counting equipment to find a cause of lamb unthriftiness and found high worm burdens.
Further tests revealed significant resistance to white (benzimidazole) and slight resistance to yellow (levamizole) drenches, but none to ivermectin. This led to the creation of an egg count-based worm control routine that uses the two effective treatments.
Mr Jarvis told visitors he was convinced accessing technology through being a demonstration farm, and what he had learned from members of the discussion group linked to Gelli Goll, had accelerated management improvements.
Lisa Evans, HCC’s technology transfer officer, said there was no doubt participation in the demonstration farm project had given the partners a wealth of advice and the confidence to try their hand at using new technologies on the 121ha unit.
One example was the inclusion of a yeast supplement in the finishing ration fed to 120 bought-in store cattle. This added £10/t to the cost of the ration based on home-grown cereals, but it boosted daily liveweight gain by 0.21kg/head.