The sheep industry – up and up!!

I can’t think of a better industry to be in at the moment than the sheep industry. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. There is so much potential left in sheep, and this excites me every day. Imagine getting up and not wanting to go to work!!??……….

As a commercial producer, I think it is important we keep up with the latest knowledge, technology and genetic measurements (ASBV’s) as much as the studs do. If we don’t, the studs will be reluctant to change due to “lack of demand from the clients”. And if we rely on progress to start with the studs, we are relying on them to potentially try and sell something that there is no demand for – and why would they do that?? Demand leads to supply.

I’ve mentioned before that the variation in my flock is a huge point of interest for me. If I look at the average production figures year on year, it says to me that half of my ewes are below average! There will always be an average for sure, and there will always be animals that sit below that average…….this is just the thing that creates the constant drive to want to improve my ewe flock.

As an aid to start identifying these ewes, I want to understand more what the maternal influence is over the lambs born. If half the genetics comes from the ewe and half the ram, what other impact does the ewe actually give to the lamb expressing its genetics to their potential in terms of her direct relationship with her offspring?

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Getting the ewes in for lamb marking last month, there is a stark difference between mothering ability from those that will stand up the dog, to those just want out….. and fast!! And what about udder size and milk production – does this influence the lamb reaching its genetic potential? Or the ewes condition score, or whether she was a single or twin lamb herself??

This year I am attempting to mother up 400 ewes (1st and 2nd lambers) with 670 lambs using the Pedigree Match Maker system. This is a system that uses RFID ear tags that are in the ewes and lambs and by a repetition of close association past a scanner, we can identify which lambs belong too which ewes. I think it is important technology like this is usable commercially and on a large scale. If I can match up this many this year, I will do a larger number next year. It may be that we only need to match ewes in their first year to get an idea of what their genetic potential is if the traits measured are also repeatable.

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I am super Syked about the information this could potentially give us in terms of creating selection pressure and lifting the bar on the flock average as well as identifying those flying under the line. The fact that it can all be done electronically and information can flow from generation to generation, the animals become an individual by default with some meaningful information associated with them.

The information I want to get a better understand of is ewe efficiency. So kg of lamb weaned per ewe is of interest. The measures I will take are ewe live weight and condition at weaning, lamb weaning weight, lamb growth rate post weaning and ewe condition change and scanning rate the following year. A link back to sire group will help determine what my genetic progress is.

Imagine if we could then get carcase traits and eating quality figures back from the abattoir on top of this! It would enable better and more informed decisions to be made on farm by simply sorting and drafting on objective information. When wool is added to the mix – it will create an even bigger picture which is the benefit of a wool/meat sheep combined in the one animal!

As I prepare to head to South Africa, UK, Ireland, and Denmark in a few days, I am really looking forward to the information I will gather from both the sheep industry and other industries.

Will keep you posted!!

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7 thoughts on “The sheep industry – up and up!!

  1. After having measured birthweights on more than 1000 lambs annually for almost 20 years the maternal effect on birthweight is very significant. Some ewes have the maternal traits to produce good sized lambs at birth while others produce very small lambs. This isn’t birthweight as we think of it. ram with low maternal birthweight has daughters that produce light lambs, but can have sons that sire high birthweight lambs. I think there are probably bloodlines that are high or low for maternal birthweight, and why one of our clients has really sigmificant lambing issues despite using very low birthweight sires.

  2. This is awesome Han, Keep up the great work. I love the fact that you have the RFID reader set up, great stuff. Keep pushing those boundaries and trying new things, it ultimately will lead to more productive, efficient sheep production.

  3. Hi Hannah, fantastic set up with your RFID reader. Very impressive. Recording data is the first step. Without that, how do you make informed decisions? This has been a real issue in the sheep industry compared to other industries. Keep up the questioning! Cheryl

  4. I look forward to the next instalment of your wisdom and vision Hannah. It is so exciting to see the direction and professionalism that the sheep industry is now displaying in its younger appassionatos! Love to read about it and look forward to sharing some more insights with you soon.

  5. If people don’t know what is available from studs to measure for improvement they will never demand it. If studs start measurements that will lead to improvements in production this will create demand for that trait and or measurement of it.

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