Few subjects are as likely to stir up emotion among sheep farmers more than breed choice.
Some stick to the breed used by their ancestors while others embrace modern breeds.
What is evident from the recently published Eblex survey of UK sheep breeds is that the pattern is shifting and there are both winners and losers.
See the infographic and more detail below.
Texel, Suffolk and Charollais accounted for half of the rams used. However, the Suffolk breed saw a dramatic 10% fall in share while the Scottish Blackface declined by about 6,000 rams.
In contrast, there were 50% more Lleyn rams and the number of Beltex rams had almost doubled.
While Bluefaced Leicester rams came in fifth place, the breed has decreased in popularity despite often being used as the sire of many crossbred ewes.
With ewes, the Texel, Lleyn and Bluefaced Leicester have increased in number, but hill breeds are in decline. Falling numbers of Scottish Blackface, Swaledale and Welsh Mountain are responsible for much of this drop.
Despite this fall, these three key hill breeds still account for over 20% of all ewes.
The ratio of purebred to cross-bred ewes is now 44:56. In 2003, this was 50:50. Recognised cross-breeds continue to be important, such as the North Country Mule, which comprises 12.5% of all ewes mated.
Two recent developments are worth noting. First there are fewer half-bred types (Border Leicester cross Hill breeds) than there were. Second, there has been an increase in the number of ad-hoc cross-bred ewes.
- Data included in the survey was drawn from a questionnaire sent to every wool producer registered with the British Wool Marketing Board, representing 23% of breeders and 16% of breeding ewes. Download the full report as a PDF.