9th July 2012

Scottish Sheep Strategy Focus Farms Open Day at Wellheads

An open meeting to consider the results of a trial run by Quality Meat Scotland’s Scottish Sheep Strategy group will be held at 2pm on Friday July 13th at Wellheads Farm, near Huntly.This year is the second and final year of the trial investigating the benefits of using high genetic merit Suffolk tups on the 500 ha (1235 acre) farm run by John Gordon and family. The farm, which rises to 1250 feet above sea level, runs around 860 breeding ewes plus 280 hoggs and a suckler unit of 220 cows.Lambs are born in April and finished mainly off grass from July to October, with all lambs in the trial born to similarly aged Mule ewes.“Visitors to the event will be able to see the ewes and lambs involved in year two of the trial and hear about the progress at Wellheads. “The trial is also being carried out on two further farms in other parts of Scotland – The Morrisons Farm at Dumfries House and Kings Arms Farm, Ballantrae courtesy of Messrs Dalrymple -  and the progress on these farms will also be discussed,” said Kathy Peebles, Livestock Development Manager with QMS.The results of the latest trials reinforce the message that commercial sheep farmers will improve returns by using tups with the genetic potential to sire more efficient off-spring.Recent trial results, announced at Scotsheep last month, reveal producers selecting High Index Suffolk tups on a first cross are obtaining a welcome income boost of £2 - £3 per lamb.The rationale for initiating a trial using Suffolk focus farms, was the breed’s ability to sire lambs which grow quickly and reach market specification at a young age.Over the previous four years four different breeds of tup have been used on six farms operating different management and marketing strategies. Years three and four of this particular project focused on the daughters bred by the previous two years High Index and Farm Choice sires compared with those bred by Low Index  when they were were then mated with a High Index ram. This part of the Phase one project showed a financial benefit ranging from £4.50/dam to £7.50/dam as the genetic benefit is cumulative. For no additional labour inputs those retaining their own ewes lamb replacements for breeding can derive real benefit from using High Index rams.The phase one project showed that High Index tups consistently outperformed tups selected in the traditional manner by an average of  £5 per ewe and £11 per ewe more than Low Index.These figures were achieved by a combination of factors, each contributing to the overall margin. The lambs were slightly heavier and had slightly better conformation. They also reached target weight and cover at a younger age and had a better survival rate.  Mr Gordon, who is considering using a High Index tup on his pure Suffolk ewes this year, said there had been several reasons behind his decision to get involved in the trial.“The main reason was to see if we were missing out on a potential £3000 - £4000 bonus for producing better lambs faster.“The impression we got during the 2011 and 2012 lambings was that the lambs sired by the High Index tups were quicker to grow and to attain 44kg liveweight.”Professor Cheryl Ashworth from Roslin Institute’s Division of Developmental Biology will also attend the meeting to talk about the effect that ewe management in the first three months of pregnancy has on lamb development. Her talk will cover other breeding initiatives co-funded by QMS including a lamb vigour trial involving both Scottish Blackface and Suffolk flocks. The meeting will finish no later than 4.00pm and refreshments will be provided.  Those who would like to attend should phone or text Alison Glasgow of Signet on 07885 255621 or email alison.glasgow@eblex.ahdb.org.uk. For more information on the Scottish Sheep Strategy, including the latest trial results, visit www.scottishsheepstrategy.org.ukEnds

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