British sheep farming is interesting to say the least. There is an immense amount of diversity with about 75 breeds ( both introduced and local), a stratified farming system, (hill, midland and lowland breeds) an enormous amount of history and tradition and a good bit of industry progress as well.
Although EBV’s (estimated breeding values) are only used on 7% of the UK sheep, this 7% are not to be missed. They have worked out that improving maternal traits is 4-6 times more profitable than terminal traits. I find this extremely interesting and emphasises the importance the ewe plays in overall profitability. The Welsh family in the Scottish high country are breeding easy care sheep. This is a breed of sheep derived from a maternal Scottish blackface that now has exceptional carcase attributes. They lamb outdoors and breed animals that get in lamb, wean their lamb and have high growth rates. This family are among those setting the benchmark for the british sheep industry in my opinion.
I went to the Builth Wells Ram sale in Wales. With over 5000 rams offered across all breeds, only an observed small percentage were sold with any sort of breeding value information. I’m not sure about you, but I have to question when told horn placement, long ears and pink faces mean the rams were ‘better doing’ rams.
The preparation that went into these rams was nothing to sneeze at as obviously the breeders take an immense amount of pleasure preparing them for the show/sale. However, being a commercial producer that needs farming to be a viable business, the colour dipping, extreme clipping, naivety to grass and hoof paint are not traits that my lambs or replacement stock will benefit from! I’d be more interested in how the maternal and terminal genetic potential will impact my key profit drivers.
With the geography and structure of the British sheep industry, the show or central selling centres are no doubt the best way to sell Rams. How good would these rams look if they had breeding values attached to them?? What an opportunity!
Most of the farms I visited throughout the UK were top farms both in the beef and sheep sectors. Whatever the enterprise, the concepts were the same on these farms – measure your key profit drivers and make decisions around maximising them based on the information that is collected. Match your land to your industry and don’t just do things because ‘that’s whats always been done in this area’.
A very interesting young couple in Wales, Nick and Francis Davies, have converted their sheep farm to a dairy farm. It is the only dairy farm in the area for miles and the neighbours all think they are nuts! They changed not because the sheep were not going well, but because they wanted to ‘do something’. The climate and soil suited dairy so they didn’t know why it was not done in the area other than because “it’s a sheep area”.
I draw so much inspiration from people like this as it not only shows an immense amount of courage, it shows that there are always ways to do things better. I don’t think farming is a recipe and we need to continue to look outside the box. Will we ever maximise our own potential, the industries potential or the potential of our businesses if we don’t?