It’s time for sheep farmers to turn their attention to breeding and the flock that will dominate the pastures in the 2018 calendar.
Reviewing the current performance of the breeding stock particularly the ram and his subsequent progeny is an ideal starting point.
Forward planning will prove its worth in the long run as both the farmer and flock can benefit.
Ewe productivity has been identified as the single most important factor influencing flock profitability.
There are many key challenges now facing farmers as ways to improve ewe productivity is now paramount.
By establishing a targeted approach to stock selection by using performance criteria, this can be achieved.
Breeding programmes and policies specifically tailored to suit the needs of the farmer should be implemented.
Farmers should divide their flock into two; a replacing breeding flock and a slaughter lamb-producing flock.
To help farmers reduce costs they should have breeding structure to minimise inbreeding and the need to purchase rams while also selecting the correct genes, irrespective of breed.
Pure breeds are an important source of genetic material for the sheep industry. However a pure breeding flock is less productive than crossbred or composite flocks which exploit the benefits of hybrid vigour through crossbreeding.
For Irish sheep farmers, crossbreeding has been a key player in exploiting efficiency gains within the sheep industry.
Composites contain a mixture of genes from different breeds. Ewes with the right genes, rather than breeds, are selected based on their performance information. Farmers producing composite ewes need to have large scale planned breeding structure, the correct use of performance information and the ability to source performance recorded rams - pure or crossbred. This will allow farmers breed their own ewe lamb replacements with the genes they want.
On Irish sheep farms, there is a good difference in all ewes. There is widespread variation between individual ewes. It is important that farmers pick the most efficient ewes form the replacement breeding flock. Ewes that are less desirable can be used to produce slaughter lambs. Performance information is critical in helping farmers to identify and select out the superior ewes to breed replacements off. Undesirable traits such as difficult to lamb, large pendulous teats, poor mothering instinct, mastitis, foot-rot, and poor fleshing ability at grass are traits farmers don't want ewes that are breeding replacements to have. Farmers should mark these ewes so they are not selected for the replacement flock. Ewes of with these traits may need to be culled as it may not be efficient to retain them.
The recording of lambing difficulty, mothering ability, lamb vigour and lamb weight at weaning time is important information for farmers to know when they select ewes to breed replacements off. This information is used to compare the performance of individual ewes with the others in the flock. The high performance ewes and their daughters can then be retained by farmers. Farmers should develop a breeding structure to minimise inbreeding and the need to purchase rams. If the replacement breeding section of the flock is of sufficient scale it can be divided into five flocks and placed in a rotational breeding structure.
There is as much variation in the performance of animals within a particular breed as there is in the performance of animals between different breeds. Therefore, all breeding decisions should be based on performance information. However performance information does not tell the full story. Farmers should visit the flocks from which they are considering purchasing any replacement breeding rams to ensure the breeding.
A number of issues require careful consideration when determining an appropriate breeding strategy for your flock.
Some important things to remember this breeding season:
1). Review current performance of your flock
- Recognise strengths and weaknesses of current system.
- Compare performance to national benchmarks.
2). What will you be producing in the future?
- Define what you plan to market, e.g. sell 1.85 x 19kg R3L lambs from each ewe.
- Consider factors shaping your enterprise, e.g. climate, available labour, housing, and feed resources.
3). What do you want to change in the current flock?
- Establish a set of breeding goals by listing the traits you wish to change in:
- Breeding flock.
- Slaughter generation.
4). How will you enhance flock performance through breeding?
- Are the traits you wish to change easier to enhance through within-breed selection (using EBVs) or crossbreeding (exploiting hybrid vigour).
5). Will you achieve changes by purchasing new breeding stock?
- Are EBVs available to support selection decisions?
6). Will you achieve changes by selecting superior home-bred replacements?
- Do you need a recording system to identify the best home-bred sheep?
- Will the system identify sheep that perform well or those to be culled?
- How will animals be identified?
- Which traits will you record and when will they be collected?
- How will records be analysed?
- How will you make selection decisions?
- How will you select superior rams to enhance maternal traits?
7). How will you monitor your success over time?