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Stackyard News Mar 07

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Suffolk Breed Changes to Commercial Targets

Suffolk Sheep Society members have been praised for embracing change. “You’re changing faster than any other sheep breed, to meet the needs of today’s market.”

(Left to right) Society chairman, Jim Fleming, with speakers David Croston, former chief of EBLEX; Issac Crilly, NSA NI chairman and Dr Steven Johnson, Greenmount.
suffolk agm speakers

This was the message delivered by Dr Steven Johnson, Senior Beef and Sheep Technologist, to some 70 members at the Society’s recent annual meeting, held at his Greenmount Campus base, Northern Ireland (Tues 28 Feb).

“With the removal of subsidies the main driver for profitable sheep production is to reduce costs and in particular labour costs. Carcase quality is no longer the dominant driver it once was,” says Dr Johnson.

Today’s demands were highlighted by leading commercial sheep breeder and chairman of the National Sheep Association (Northern Ireland Region), Issac Crilly. “We need to produce large numbers of lambs with minimum labour input, ease of management is absolutely essential on my farm where sheep are our only enterprise,” he told the Suffolk breeders.

As one of four lowland farms chosen to take part in trials run by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Hillsborough (AFBI), to evaluate the merits of selection for easycare traits in both the sire and dam, Mr Crilly said his first hand experience had left him in no doubt as to the enormous potential for using easycare rams: “Amongst the rams the research team sent was a 50% New Zealand Suffolk, for traditionalists this ram had no quality – but results from last year’s crop of lambs totally changed my mind.”

“There was markedly lower labour input at lambing time with over 80% of lambs born without any assistance. This halved the intervention compared to traditional terminal sires. The lambs from this ram did grow exceedingly well on an all grass system and all met the target spec required,” acknowledged Mr Crilly who is achieving 560kg of liveweight per hectare from his commercial lamb enterprise, where ewes leave a £25 gross margin.

When questioned about carcase quality both Dr Johnson and Mr Crilly confirmed that the New Zealand Suffolks used in AFBI trials produced less E and U grade lambs, equivalent in value of output per ewe of 90p, but emphasised that the benefits of labour reduction far outweighed this factor.

Independent consultant, and former EBLEX (English Beef and Lamb Executive) Director, David Croston pointed to changing purchasing habits and market needs: 85% of lamb is now purchased through supermarkets. Supermarkets put product on poly-trays of a certain size and the consumer wants lamb products at a certain price. The optimum market requirement to meet the supermarket trade is 19kg R3L.

All speakers agreed that the modern requirement is for longer and better loins, while the shape of the back leg - the gigot, is no longer as important as it once was.

Mr Crilly emphasised that the trials were not about promoting any particular breed, but rather trialling easycare low labour traits. The rams he had used happened to be easycare Suffolks and have provided him not only with ease of management, but also the unrivalled growth for which the breed is renowned.

Robyn Hulme, commercial director said: “I am delighted that the comments of all three speakers vindicates the policy that the Suffolk Society Council has adopted, in emphasising that future commercial requirements will be dominated by ease of management with low level labour systems. The new free recording schemes now available to all Suffolk members will enable them to measure new traits including ease of lambing and lamb vigour, both of which are vital requirements for low labour input systems.”

link Top Quality Colostrum Added To Shepherdess Range
link 24/7 Support Line for Lambing Season
link Your Chance to Ask Questions on Sheep ID

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