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Stackyard News Aug 2011

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Hampshire Down Breeders Make Record Genetic Gain

Hampshire Down sheep breeders’ genetic progress for commercial traits recorded by the Signet Sire Reference Scheme has made huge strides in the last 12 months, a trend that has been accelerated by the strong commercial lamb trade, according to Signet breeding services manager and EBLEX breeding specialist, Sam Boon.

Wattisfield Gold Top headed this year’s Hampshire Down Sire Reference Scheme ram selection.

Wattisfield Gold Top

“The 2011 Hampshire Down genetic trends may provide an early indication that breeders are taking advantage of high lamb prices and being selective in the lambs being retained. The overall genetic trend for the Hampshire Down breed has increased by 16 index points on the year, with an increase in Scan Weight EBV of more than 0.5kg. Those increments are virtually twice the value of those made in each of the last few consecutive years.”

“This change is in part an indication of the quality of the lambs that have been registered with the Hampshire Down Sheep Breeders’ Association and in part reflects the type of breeding decisions made last autumn both in terms of the ewes that were to be retained and the rams they were to be mated to,” says Mr Boon.

“In fact, the on-going strong lamb trade could provide the industry with an unexpected long term bonus in terms of accelerated genetic progress, since when lamb prices are high, culling decisions are much simpler. Signet ultrasound scanning technicians have noticed that the number of lambs being held through to scanning is slightly lower this year, with many breeders not wishing to lose out on a high early price, have already culled hard lambs that may not make the grade. However, culling hard should not be reserved for periods when the commercial marketplace is buoyant. Breeders should always be selective when it comes to retaining animals for breeding.”

HDSBA’s Richard Davis adds: “Within the recorded Hampshire Down flocks, over 86% of the stock rams used last year were recorded themselves as lambs. This is a large percentage of the population and enables breeders to make really good breeding decisions on the basis of increasingly accurate measurements and unbiased data analysis. At the same time, they are making sure the also retain the Hampshire Down’s native characteristics, its hardiness, longevity and its ability to leave lively lambs.

“For commercial farmers, it provides them with increasing opportunities to secure rams backed by data to help them in their purchasing decisions - some will want to place more emphasis on growth traits while others will focus on carcase attributes. Our website enables buyers to source rams in their area, confident that they will perform in a predictable manner with a view to increasing flock profitability.”

Wattisfield Gold Top, a December born ram lamb headed the Hampshire Down Sire Reference Scheme ram selection 2011. He had a 4.91kg Scan wt EBV and index 223. Bred by Jim Cresswell, Wattisfield, Diss he was by Wattisfield Top Draw, out of a homebred dam by Wattisfield What Next and maternal brother to a former Royal Welsh champion.

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