13th February 2013

Sheep Producers Urged to Target the Weakest Link

Performance recording must be taken up by the Scottish sheep producers to ensure the industry can build its “flock of the future”, according to Stuart Annand, Scottish Sheep Strategy Development Officer (North) with Quality Meat Scotland.

“Performance recording is not a new idea but it will be vital in the creation of a flock which produces prime lambs efficiently and profitably from forage and from a quantified genetic base,” Mr Annand said.

Genetic advancement is a process already well proven in the pig and poultry industries, and  urges the sheep industry to take advantage of the opportunity for greater profitability offered. “In the Scottish flock we have animals with proven production traits in both maternal and terminal traits, which can contribute positively to the financial performance of breeders willing to apply them,” said Mr Annand who has been speaking to farmers at meetings in the north of Scotland.

In order to apply investment in genetics to best effect, breeders should consider exactly what it is they want to achieve.

“Taking stock and reviewing where your flock is at present in terms of performance, is crucial in building a plan to go forward,” he said.

A clear, written objective for the flock should include key performance indicators such as, but not limited to: lamb marking and weaning weights; lamb sale weights (store/prime); daily liveweight gain for lambs from marking/weaning; ewe mating weights; scanning percentage;  scanning to weaning percentage and weaning to sale percentage.

“All this information can then be applied to determine the weakest link, with activity thereafter focused on targeting the magic ‘missing 25%’,” said Mr Annand.

“The opportunity for increasing returns lies inside the farm gate of every flock, regardless of farm type or breed. Whether your motivation is for better replacement ewe lambs or simply heavier store/prime lambs, there is an EBV (Estimated Breeding Value) which, when correctly applied, will hasten your  progress   towards  profitable, sustainable lamb production.”

Typically this season around 25-30% has been eroded from the sale price of most lambs. This drop can be attributed to exchange  rates, faltering consumer demand and simple supply fundamentals.

To regain a position of profitability, he urged producers to consider the following outcomes which would each deliver the “missing 25%”, equating to £11.50 per ewe for an average hill flock.

“Small, focused changes in flock management can collectively make a significant difference to the bottom line,” he observed.

Among the options for achieving this magic 25% are: increasing lamb daily liveweight gain by 60g/day from birth to weaning and improving ewe performance by £10.80; increasing the weight of lambs weaned per ewe by 6kg equating to an £11.10 per ewe improvement; increasing scanning to sale percentage by 20% resulting in a £12.00 per ewe improvement; or reducing costs of machinery, feed and labour by 20%, resulting in a £17 per ewe boost.

For more information on flock recording and measurement or EBVs and performance recording pedigree sheep, visit www.scottishsheepstrategy.org.uk or contact Stuart Annand on 07808 010068.

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