Commercial sheep farmers are being advised to incorporate performance figures into their sire selection this autumn.
Estimated breeding values (EBVs) are a good way of evaluating top genetics, but many farmers buy rams on physical appearance only, suggests Dr John Vipond, a senior sheep consultant Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC). This can be a costly mistake, he says.
Dr Vipond says: “When you are buying a ram, it must have the figures.
“Some of the rams being sold for the highest prices are those with the poorest figures. It is time to get some reality back into the situation.’’
EBVs offer many advantages, such as improving the weights of finished lambs, carcase confirmation and scanning percentage.
Dr Eleri Price, supply chain development executive at Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC), says they are an additional tool that ram purchasers should use when selecting sires.
“Maternal and meat yield and meat quality traits cannot be determined from a visual assessment and there are good economic reasons for using EBVs,’’ says Dr Price.
“Every farm has different challenges. Therefore, EBVs allow farmers to choose animals that suit their specific situation.
“The first question when buying a ram should be – do you record and, if so, what are your values?’’
Dr Price advises farmers to learn to interpret EBVs.
“Use them as a tool and re-evaluate what you need for your business,” she says.
Figures are important, but so too is checking the physical wellbeing of rams before the breeding period.
All rams should undergo an MOT, checking their teeth, testicles and feet, says Dr Vipond.
“Sperm takes eight weeks to mature, so if a ram has a really bad abscess or is lame, it will affect its sperm production,” he says.
“Check the physical wellbeing of rams before mating and, before making purchasing decisions, check teeth, feet and testicles.”
Elan Davies, Farming Connect red meat technical officer for south east Wales, says lamb production relies on rams being fit to work, therefore an MOT is vital.
“It is vitally important to take account of the ram’s performance figures and handle the ram before purchasing it, rather than just relying on visual appearance alone which can be very misleading,” she says.
“In making any breeding decisions, the more information you gain the better knowledge of the rams you have, his legacy may be with you for years.”