Lancashire Farmer Network members are most improved flock winnersFriday 09 May 2014
TWO Lancashire and Greater Manchester Farmer Network members are among this year's EBLEX Improved Flock Award winners - an aknowledgement that is presented annually to the recorded flock that shows the greatest increase in genetic merit for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period.
There is a separate award for each of the 10 UK breeds presented by the EBLEX Better Returns Programme, with the Suffolk award going to Andrea Gardner of Lancaster and the Wiltshire Horn award to Simon Temple of Quernmore, both of whom are members of the North Lancs Beef and Sheep Group...
Wiltshire Horn Bowland Flock - Simon Temple, Quernmore
Simon's flock of 25 Wiltshire Horn sheep have been performance-recorded since its establishment in 2008.
He has enjoyed the challenge of lifting the flock from the bottom 10 per cent to the top 25 per cent for the breed.
Focusing on traits such as eight-week and 21-week weights and muscle depth, he is able to ensure his flock continues to make progress.
Simon lives at Stockabank Farm at Quernmore, which is managed together with the larger neighbouring farm at Yealand Redmayne, Simon was raised at Yealand and by profession was a barrister, but after a change in direction due to ill health he decided to go back to farming.
He has two native breeds on the farm, both with the Bowland prefix and both performance recorded; a herd of 40 pedigree Red Poll cattle and a flock of 25 Wiltshire Horn sheep.
In addition to these native breeds, he has a small pedigree Bluefaced Leicester flock to produce rams to cross with 50 purebred Cheviots, producing a Mule ewe, and a small flock of Texels providing rams for these Mules. The Cheviots and Mules, together with the Bluefaced Leicester and Texel flocks are run commercially.
His wife, Sally, works full time with young people, but she is enthusiastic about sheep dog trialling. She has two small flocks of Torddu Badgerface and Balwen Welsh Mountains which she uses, along with some of the Wiltshire Horns, to train her dogs.
Establishing native breeds to manage grassland
Simon came across the Wiltshire Horn many years ago, when he used Wiltshire Horn rams on another flock to promote easy care. In 2008, when entering into the HLS agreement with a supplement for using native breeds, he decided to build up a flock.
They are kept at Yealand Redmayne, which has Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) status and, therefore, various management restrictions. There are areas with a lot of scrub and brambles in need of clearing; the Wiltshire Horn, being very good at browsing, is an ideal candidate with the advantage of having no fleece so they cannot get snagged and caught in the vegetation.
Performance recording to promote enhanced carcase traits
On joining the Wiltshire Horn group of breeders which performance record their stock he attends a selection day where each breeder takes along their best rams to assess breed characteristics and compare figures. As a group, they nominate a ram to use as a common link sire between the groups and each member is able to use him on up to 10 ewes within their own flock. This provides connectivity between each flock in the group and to date is working well. Three rams are used each year, two stock rams and the link loaned from another breeder.
Simon has been recording his flock since they were established six years ago. He already recorded the performance of his Red Poll cattle and the Bluefaced Leicester flock, so it seemed natural to continue with the Wiltshire Horns. Ultrasound scanning at 21 weeks gives actual measurements of muscle and fat depths across the loin, providing Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) on growth and muscle depth, which are then monitored to develop the flock.
“This progress started slowly, but as more new genetically-superior females join the base flock, through replacement ewe lambs, improvements are starting to accelerate,” he said.
“This is further helped as ewes at the lower end of the index are culled out.”
The Wiltshire Horns have a proactive group of breeders who can interpret the breeding values of individual traits well, so it is relatively easy to find a ram with figures to complement your ewes.
“Ultrasound scanning is useful for determining muscle depth and greater accuracy is provided with such equipment,” Simon said.
“However, I do feel the flock has suffered slightly in concentrating on these traits alone, to the detriment of mature size which has reduced. With the rams used recently I’m hoping to boost mature size while continuing to move the index and EBVs the right way, or at least holding them at the level they already are.”
Wiltshire Horn sheep are easy keepers. Lambing outside in early April, they achieve a lambing percentage of 150 per cent, which Simon hopes to be able to increase over time through selection for the maternal traits.
He aims to wean lambs around 12 weeks, but this is dependant on the weather and environmental challenges they have had to face in their earlier weeks.
Main lamb selections take place at the time of the 21-week weight and scan, by which time lambs are showing potential and certain animals are standing out from the crowd. He keeps around five ram lambs and retains ewe lambs for flock replacements, depending on how they develop and the EBV and Index data received from Signet after scanning.
Quite a high proportion of ewe lambs are kept, with the view that daughters naturally supersede their mothers in terms of their genetic potential and will therefore continue to improve his baseline of the flock.
Currently, females are selected mainly on their carcase trait EBVs. Any ram lambs with the EBVs, pedigree and structure to develop into a high-index stock ram are kept entire.
Most wethers are sold as stores through their local market. While he has been building his flock there haven’t been many females available for sale, but now that numbers and quality are getting to a point that he’s happy with, surplus sound breeding ewes will start to become available. These will be taken to the society sale at Stoneleigh in September.
To date he hasn’t sold vast quantities of breeding stock, despite being approached by producers.
“The problem we face is that the Wiltshire Horn is not seen as a crossing sire,” Simon said.
“Most producers are interested in them for their easy-care attributes. If the Wiltshire Horn is to be used in the place of a Terminal Sire, a commercially-viable lamb needs to be produced which displays the correct size, weight and an ability to finish quickly. In order to market our breed effectively, we need to be able to promote these carcase traits.”
He likes showing the Red Poll cattle and the Wiltshire Horns as it gives the public an opportunity to see these traditional native breeds. Enjoying the social aspect, they go to the Three Counties, Cheshire, Staffordshire, and Westmorland County shows, but finds there are limited classes for the native breeds.
Powerline flock wins most improved award for the Suffolk breed - Andrea Gardner, Lancaster
Mother to two daughters and working full time at Myerscough College, Andrea is not one to shy away from work. As in addition to being mum, shepherd and full-time worker, she is also studing for an MBA.
Starting as the College's farm secretary in 1993, she is now part of their Rural Business Centre, offering a Farm Business Advisory service. It is from this link with the college that her flock first started...
Starting small to establish the Powerline flock
In 2001, she took over the care of the pedigree Suffolk flock at Myerscough College, where she reduced the 35-ewe flock down to 20 ewes, based on looks and figures, and later secured some funding to enter into a sheep improvement programme with the flock.
Synchronising ewes for an artificial insemination (AI) programme and careful selection of high-index semen had a dramatic effect with subsequent progeny and as a result she won the 2005 EBLEX Progressive Flock Award.
“This achievement was partly due to the good advice and guidance from the Premier Suffolk Breeders, where I was a member and latterly treasurer,” Andrea said.
“The use of semen from the Drinkstone flock had a great influence on the genetics of the college flock at that time and has today had that same influence for me.”
In 2007, having secured grazing agreements on a local dairy farm and with land attached to Kirkham Prison, she was able to set up her own flock of ewes. She has always appreciated the amount of meat on the carcase from a Suffolk lamb, so naturally she decided to establish her own Powerline Suffolk flock with foundation ewes purchased from the Perrinpit and Cairness flocks.
“Some of these foundation ewes did not have good Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), but were pleasing to the eye,” Andrea explained.
“Over the years, with the help of using individual traits, I have added both muscle and growth to make some exceptional sheep which I am really pleased with!”
Later purchases from Laddygreen, Ortum, Chipping and Rugley completed the base flock of 30 breeding ewes.
Using high-index sires and artificial breeding programmes to improve genetics
Andrea uses AI as a cost-effective way to access proven sires to improve the genetics of her flock, hence avoiding the need to buy rams. Originally, she selected traits for growth rates and fat depths, now she focuses on muscle depth through selection of rams, regularly using eight or nine different rams in an AI programme.
Through careful ewe preparation and attention to detail with the synchronised breeding programme, she is achieving a 75 per cent conception rate from AI. This ensures the majority of her ewes lamb during the Christmas holidays, when she has time off from her full-time job, outside of that they are on their own!
Andrea believes using teaser rams and critical timekeeping for the insertion and removal of sponges helps to get the required result from the AI programme. She avoids handling the ewes for six weeks after the programme, so ensures all jobs are up to date with her ewes prior to insemination.
“By paying attention to the ram and ensuring high maternal traits, the Suffolk produces active, lively lambs. The ewes are good mums with plenty of milk,” Andrea said.
“I rarely lamb a ewe and caesareans aren’t common. All of my performance-recorded ewes have been good mothers.”
Lambs are offered creep from a week old, being turned out when the season allows, usually by early February. After weaning, they are moved off creep and onto clean grazing. At this time retained lambs are identified, while the remainder are finished and sold as box-scheme lamb. By June, the focus is on getting ewes ready for AI and sorting them into tupping groups.
In 2012, she decided to super-ovulate and flush one of her best ewes, and was not disappointed. Her intention was to multiply the number of lambs from a ewe which had consistently bred well.
The ewe’s maternal traits were off the scale, and all other traits were in the top one to five per cent of the Suffolk breed. Semen from Ortum Supersire 2005 was used, knowing this combination had proven results. Embryos were collected and transferred, producing six lambs. The ewe was put back to the ram and conceived triplets. Overall it was a very happy outcome, with many new females born in one year to join the base flock.
Using performance recording to encourage sales:
“Performance recording for me gave me my USP and the results speak for themselves,” Andrea explained.
“EBVs must have a meaning to a breeder. They are producing lambs to meet a specification and a tup with no figures is an unknown quantity"
“Producers breeding sheep that are not meeting specification are not maximising their output or their return. Sourcing recorded sires provides assurance to producers that, with the right traits for their commercial flocks and production systems, they can refine the economics and increase profit.
“There is no place for the commercial farmer to purchase big-boned, big-headed rams which melt away after purchase. I want to produce a sheep with, first and foremost, a nice meaty carcase and secondly, one which is pleasing to the eye in the field. I want to own something I feel proud of and I believe I can do that!”
She attends local shows such as Bury and Garstang show when possible. She also tries to support shows linked to society sales, such as Shrewsbury and occasionally Carlisle, seeing this as an opportunity to get her sheep noticed. She sells to other pedigree breeders and is building relations with local producers who provide her with repeat business.
Commercial flock use
Richard Tomlinson farms at Solwick, Preston, and produces Gracemire lamb from his early lambing flock of 300 North England Mules. “I met Andrea at a local agricultural show and after visiting her flock at home was impressed,” he said.
“Since then I have been buying rams from her every year for four years. EBVs were new to me but Andrea was careful to explain an individual ram’s strengths and help to determine which rams would suit my production system.”
To date he is pleased with ram performance with his ewes.
“The Powerline rams are good, strong animals. They retain their condition well, are good on their feet and have longevity,” he said.
As well as selling lambs both liveweight and deadweight, he sells box-scheme lamb and attends local farmers’ markets with his produce, finishing all his own stock from 12 weeks of age with a target weight of 42kg and a 3L carcase.
Last year was the first time Andrea had surplus ewes and sold some in-lamb ewes through the Carlisle Society Sale and NWA Kendal. Looking ahead, she hopes to be able to continue supporting these sales with her females, either surplus ewe lambs or in-lamb ewes. In addition, she will continue to sell ram lambs direct from home and society sales. Her flock is MV-accredited and she is starting to focus on developing opportunities for the export market.
Commenting on the win, Signet Breeding Services Manager Sam Boon said:
“Rates of genetic improvement in Signet-recorded flocks are at an all-time high. The difference between the best, high-EBV breeding stock and average animals is increasing year on year.
“This means commercial producers have more to gain when investing in rams with superior genetics. Pedigree breeders can capitalise on these differences too and this is exactly what Andrea and Simon have done. The improvement in the genetic merit of her flock is clear and she is to be congratulated on her achievement.”