Better breeding

21 July 2000

Better breeding

will put cash in

farmers pockets

The Bridfa Suffolk

Improvement Group will be

showing the benefits of

genetic improvement

PROGRESS in Europes biggest sheep improvement project will be reported at the show. The Meat and Livestock Commission, which co-ordinates the £2.6m, five-year Welsh Sheep Strategy programme, and the breed societies involved, will demonstrate the benefits of genetic improvement.

They can show how increased participation in sire reference schemes and ram performance testing is pinpointing the best sheep within individual flocks, and within breeds.

The key message for producers is that better breeding will put more cash in their pockets by increasing prime lamb leanness and carcass weights, and by boosting growth rates. In simple terms using a top recorded ram can push up income by £500.

The Bridfa Suffolk Improvement Group is one with much to publicise at the Royal Welsh. Based at IGERs Trawsgoed Farm south of Aberystwyth, the 70-ewe flock established in 1990 has started using CT (computer tomography) scanning to enhance the accuracy of the estimated breeding values (EBVs) attributed to its sheep.

By using the best breeding stock available the average EBV of lambs born this year was 228 points, compared with 104 in 1991. Since the flock joined the breeds sire reference scheme in 1994 it has risen to sixth place on index out of 58 flocks.

Each Bridfa ram lamb is 1.5kg heavier at eight weeks than in 1990 and genotyping has been used to achieve scrapie resistant status. Rams bred in the flock are being used on IGERs 1500 commercial half-bred ewes to get lambs that finish earlier. Already the proportion sold by the end of June has risen from 10% to 45%, and the aim is to increase it to 75%.

At a recent flock open day David Hiam, who chairs the breeds sire reference scheme, said the benefits of superior genetics were cumulative, permanent and cost effective. Already the pyramid effect meant that the genetics in top flocks were being passed down.

"There is no greater challenge than the breeding of better livestock and this group has the satisfaction of seeing measurable improvements, especially in the last three years," he claimed.

One English breeder who only used Suffolk rams with a minimum index of at least 252 managed to get 98% of his lambs out of North Country Mules off by October at an average weight of 44.6kg. But he emphasised that genetic improvement went hand in hand with the retention of the breeds good looks.

Gwyn Howells, MLCs industry development manager, says more and more breeders now accept that even if they do not want to get involved in a formal scheme, it pays to buy indexed rams. When records are available the guesswork is taken out.

The Welsh Sheep Strategy is also attempting to disseminate research findings and new technology using three focus farms and linked community groups. One aspect of the work, more effective intestinal worm control, will be featured at the show.

Kirsty Howells, a research student at the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, will demonstrate faecal egg counting, including the use of an on-farm system, to estimate the risk of infection and to show the effectiveness of drug treatments.

Preparing a ram for sire reference show.

L-r, Roland Williams, David and Judy Hiam, Martin Kennerley.

Research student Kirsty Howells will demonstrate an on-farm faecal egg-counting system at the show.

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