2013-06-17   facebooktwitterrss
Breeding for Ewe Efficiency Key to Success

By Dr Ronald Annett, AFBI, Hillsborough

A well planned breeding policy aimed at delivering more lambs with less hassle is key to the future of the NI sheep industry.

How this can be achieved and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint of Northern Ireland lamb is the focus of farmer-funded research currently being undertaken on local farms.

AgriSearch in action as farmers listen to host farmer Isaac Crilly and Dr Ronald Annett AFBI

AgriSearch in action as farmers listen to host farmer Isaac Crilly and Dr Ronald Annett AFBI discuss the genetics required for lowland lamb production at a profit. Dr Annett looks forward to meeting producers at the NSA NI 2013 event in Ballymena on July 1.

The research programme, which is jointly funded by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) and AgriSearch, and co-ordinated by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Hillsborough, is being undertaken on five commercial lowland farms around Northern Ireland as well as at Hillsborough.
The project aims is to develop breeding strategies which are economically sustainable, reduce labour inputs, improve welfare, and lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Ewe fertility is the key driver of production efficiency and profitability so the main focus of the project has been to develop more productive and easily managed ewes for the lowland sector, examining a range of maternal breed crosses for their fertility, lambing ease and mothering ability.
Ram selection is another key factor affecting flock performance so the crossbred ewes were mated to a range of maternal and terminal sire-breed rams to investigate their growth performance and carcass characteristics.

The majority of ewes lambed down for the first time at 2 years old and results from the first phase of the ewe trial (1 and 2 crop ewes) are outlined in Table 1.

Table 1. Effect of breed type on performance of lowland ewes (1 and 2 crop)


Ewe breed

Assisted lambing
(% ewes)

Lambs weaned per ewe lambed

Total weight weaned (kg/ewe)

Ewe efficiency
(kg lamb weaned per kg ewe)*

Belclare X

17

1.49

49

0.81

Highlander X

11

1.67

55

0.90

Lleyn X

13

1.46

48

0.82

Romney X

18

1.49

52

0.86

Texel X

12

1.35

53

0.88

* Target = 1 kg lamb weaned for every
kg ewe body weight

These ewes were on average 59 kg at mating and are expected to reach a mature weight of approx. 65 kg. Therefore when compared with the heavier and more traditional lowland ewe types like the Mule or Suffolk X Cheviot, these ewes have lower feed requirements and are easier to maintain. Highlander X ewes recorded the lowest incidence of lambing difficulties and highest weaning rate of all the ewe breeds studied.

 

How this can be achieved and at the same time reduce the carbon footprint of Northern Ireland lamb is the focus of farmer-funded research currently being undertaken on local farms.

Dr Ronald Annett

Dr Ronald Annett
AFBI, Hillsborough

Ewe efficiency, in terms of the weight of lamb weaned per kilogram of ewe body weight, is a key indicator of flock performance as well as carbon footprint. All of the ewes achieved efficiencies of 0.80-0.90, that is, their weaned lamb output was equivalent to 80-90% of their body weight. However the Highlander X ewes again excelled on this front due to their superior weaning rate, followed closely by Texel X and Romney X ewes.

Ram effects on lamb performance and carcass quality are outlined in Table 2.
The study is continuing for a further 2 years to investigate lamb output from the older 3 and 4 crop ewes, and to assess the longevity of these ewe breeds. Further information on the study to-date can be obtained by visiting the AFBI and AgriSearch stands at the NSA Sheep NI 2013 in Ballymena market on Mon July 1.

FREE IN BALLYMENA FOUR VALUABLE BOOKLETS!
AGRISEARCH has four free handouts on offer to profit conscious lamb producers at Ballymena Mart during the NSA NI Sheep 2013 event on Mon, July 1.

Available at the AgriSearch stand inside the mart lairage these handouts contain valuable, practical information on fluke control, composite ewes for hill flocks, new breeding strategies for lowland flocks and carbon foot printing.

All visiting the stand can likewise sign up for their free AgriSearch ezine newsletter also available by e mailing your details to info@agrisearch.org

Agrisearch


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link Sheep Breeders


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