Don't judge sheep by its looks

Commercial lamb producers are being encouraged to increase returns by buying rams from flocks with records of performance.

Commercial lamb producers are being encouraged to increase returns by buying rams from flocks with records of performance, rather than choosing them on appearance alone.

This simple measure could increase returns by up to £2.77 per lamb, according to Ed Sutcliffe, technical director of ACMC Ltd, (pictured) who spoke at a recent meeting of sheep farmers, organised by EBLEX at Upton House, Beeford, in Yorkshire.

Although ACMC Ltd specialises in pig breeding, Sutcliffe used his knowledge about selecting the best animals and the available technology to offer advice to the farmers.

"Many flock owners still purchase rams on looks," said Sutcliffe, "but using tested terminal sires will give an immediate genetic and financial gain."

Sutcliffe told the farmers that technology to identify the best rams was already available. Growth rates and weight are easy to record, and fat measurements can be taken by ultrasonic machines. It is also possible to send sires for whole body (CT) scans, to monitor muscle, fat and bone content and distribution.

The figures are then used to calculate Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and a flock index. The Beeford Texel flock, which the farmers were given the chance to examine, have recorded continuous improvement for 16 years and are ranked number two out of the 101 nationally recorded herds by Signet, the MLC's sheep breeding service.

"At present, few sheep farmers bother to look at figures," said Sutcliffe, "but good muscling characteristics in the loin eye-muscle area and giggot can actually result in better-looking animals."

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