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In your field: Thomas Carrick - 'Sheep farming is enjoying a purple patch at the moment'

Well, as per usual, July has flown by. All silage is baled and although it has been a catchy and frustrating time, we have ended up with plenty of decent crop.

The best ground we have was extremely dry in the spring and took a long time to bring around, even when things turned wetter. We waited as long as we dared before cutting, but push came to shove and we had to get on with it to make the most of some good weather (there was a little bit).

 

We have often talked of making shorter cuts of silage in the interest of maintaining quality, especially for feeding to sheep, and finally we’ve been forced. It will be interesting to see how it analyses when compared to our later cut crops further up the hill which, although longer and older, usually analyse well.


Clipping is also all finished and I honestly can’t remember when they have ever been better to shear. From start to finish, there has been lots of rise in the fleece, even on leaner ewes. I almost enjoyed doing it.


We all keep saying it, but times are strange and the future indeed holds lots of uncertainty, especially when deadlines for EU negotiations come and go.


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However, sheep farming is enjoying a purple patch, with prime lamb and store sales both at great levels throughout July. No doubt Eid as well as low New Zealand imports have helped to keep prices buoyant, but it is confidence-inspiring to know our products are in demand.


From a sheep breeding perspective, this week’s annual Thame Summer Sheep Fair is a bellwether for trade going into the back-end of the year and I wish the vendors all the best in what will be a nervous week, given the circumstances. Market reports will be eagerly awaited.


Breeding Mules is a traditional way of running a sheep farming business these days, often left behind by other breeds using more modern breeding techniques, such as genetic testing.

 

However, many producers and buyers of Mules are convinced of their virtues, even though the merits of ‘hybrid vigour’ are hard to prove, especially in an upland cross-breed.


As farmers, we are programmed to make our livestock clonal as it makes them more similar to each other and easy to present on paper.

 

However, looking at one or a handful of phenotypes associated to a given genotype will rarely tell the whole story and it is easy to cling onto weak associations when you are keen to see them in the first place.

 

One thing we do know for certain is that genetic diversity is a good thing, especially when concerning functions such as the immune system and other traits with low heritability.


Hybrid vigour, or heterosis, has been shown to to be important in several maternal traits which possess low heritability and, through genomic testing, it has now been shown that one breed is so genetically distinct from the others that it delivers unparalleled levels of hybrid vigour when crossed: the Bluefaced Leicester, sire of the Mule.

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