Our main breeding objective is to breed the fastest growing sheep possible when fed solely on grass and particularly permanent pasture.
There are two key areas that the commercial sheep farmer must strive to improve on. The first would be to improve the quality of the grazing and general sheep management through better grassland and stock management. The second way is to improve performance is through the use of better sheep breeding and genetics. This will give you better performance from your sheep for the same inputs. A serious sheep farmer looking for better profitability will be looking at improving both these areas.
We think that the target should be for a pure breed of sheep to sell at least half of the weaned lambs at 14 weeks fat, the overwhelming majority being twin reared. This should be done of grass alone. Then when this is achieved the mature size of the ewe should be reduced, by further advances in growth rates, while still maintaining this level of performance. Assuming that a ewe rears twins this would be the optimal approach to maximizing lamb output per unit area , a key and arguably the most important profit indicator.
Because of this we only feed grass to our breeding stock when they are being evaluated and their growth rates recorded.
Practical management traits are very important. Ease of care is an absolute essential, sheep must look after their farmers and shepherds not vice versa. To this extent we cull hard and extensively on:-
- Ease of lambing
- Mothering ability.
- Physical locomotion.
- Prolapses during pregnancy ( one strike and they're out).
- Teeth quality ( a sheep cannot perform or last without a good set).
- Udder conformation.
- Susceptibility to worms.
We do not however, unlike the pedigree/show world, cull for minor cosmetic reasons, where it is more than possible that a perfect looking sheep may be bred from and indeed positively selected for despite some practical " ease of care" imperfections.
Signet recording evaluates the performance of each individual sheep on the farm which allows the successive selection of the better performing sheep in various key areas. This evaluation generates individual ebvs (estimated breeding values) for each key area of performance. Indexes are derived from the most important
To put a high selection pressure on both performance and practical ease of care traits requires a very high number of annual replacements in our case that is around the 40 % mark i.e. around 300 retained replacements to service an adult flock of 750 ewes. That is one of the best ways to progress. You must carry a high level of replacements, scientifically selected, so as never to be tempted to keep back underperforming individuals just to make up numbers. Furthermore the bottom 30 % of adult Lleyns are put to a terminal sire for fat lamb production as their offspring would not make replacement grade anyway.
We lamb indoors, mindful that the majority of our customer will lamb outdoors. Therefore any sheep which we judge would not lamb outside unassisted we cull.
There are two main reasons why we lamb indoors with an outdoor lambing ethos. Firstly in a breeding program it is essential to have identity and linkage between ewe and lambs. The Kiwis have found as an indirect result of their genomics program that 9% of outdoor lambed lambs were miss mothered. A paternity and maternity test is a significant side benefit from the use of genomics but cannot be replicated at the moment in this country. The question is when you buy your sheep genetics do you only want a 90% probability that the animal's lineage is as described?
Secondly indoor lambing gives one the opportunity to take birth weights. This may not seem like a big deal but consider that lambs may vary by as much as 4kg at birth and given that the variations that we are looking for within the Signet evaluation scheme, to get an accurate 8 week weight, are considerably smaller than this, then surely it would seem prudent to capture this data where possible, so increasing early growth ebv accuracy.
We are focused on "snatching" the best performance recorded genetics available and thereby improving both the genetic performance and the genetic diversity of the flock. We also use the best home bred rams where possible as their figures tend to hold up better under evaluation despite their tendency to narrow the gene pool. This combination approach allows us to get the best of both worlds allowing diversity and maximum performance gain.
All ewes that enter the breeding flock and all rams kept back for sale are back fat and muscle scanned. This is probably a better way of accessing carcass quality than just looking at confirmation. The trouble with confirmation as a selection criteria especially in a dual purpose or maternal breed is the high correlation it has with lambing difficulty. It is better to put meat/muscle mass into the parts of the sheep's anatomy that does not compromise ease of lambing i.e. the eye muscle of the back, a particularly high value cut of meat.
No concentrates are feed to the breeding rams before sale. This is a very bad practice encouraged by the auction ring where size sells and the human eye is still "king". Farmers must get into the habit of not buying genetics at beauty pageants, where vendors compete to overfeed their rams to look as big as possible, deceiving the eye into thinking that the fatter and bigger the ram is the more he is worth. When buying a ram one is looking for a sexual athlete of high genetic merit, not a coach potato of questionable merit.
We are members of the PRLB group (Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders) which is a group of like minded Lleyn breeders who are working to take the breed forward in a coordinated fashion for the improvement of the performance recorded lleyn breed. However I must point out that I am the only members who does not straddle the pedigree fence and works solely towards the needs of the commercial sheep farmer.
We are starting to invest in worm resistance and resilience in the form of individual faecal egg counts and saliva tests. The saliva tests are being done on a trial basis in conjunction with the Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders Group, Signet and the University of Glasgow Veterinary School. Individual sheep are better at contending with nematode challenge and it will soon be able to introduce this selection criteria into the breeding program and breed stock that will be less affected by worm challenge and excrete less eggs onto pasture thereby being less of a "threat" to its flock mate.
The whole emphasis on what we do is based on science, logic and attention to detail leading to the best genetic results given the available technology. This is focused solely on the needs of the commercial sheep farmer and his desire to make more profit through better performance. This breeding ideology is what gives us the opportunity to offer the discerning sheep farmer the biggest genetic bang for his buck in the maternal sheep world through our Lleyn sheep for sale.