Given current conditions, breeding sheep which are more resilient to weather volatility was a topical source of discussion at the SBRT.
The iSAGE (Innovation for Sustainable Sheep and Goat Production in Europe) project, a consortium of 34 industry partners from seven countries, aims to make the small ruminant sector in Europe more successful and sustainable by finding solutions to some of the many challenges facing the industry.
With one of these being climate change, work is being done to develop sheep which are less susceptible to changing weather.
Prof Georgios Banos of SRUC, which has been carrying out the research, said: “We are not only breeding for tomorrow, we are breeding for the day after that, and it is important that we have the right stock.
“The project working with Scottish Blackface has found they do react differently to weather fluctuations.
“Some animals are unaffected by weather and have consistent growth whatever the conditions.
“Part of this variation is genetic and we have established the heritability of a trait in ewes based on performance of their lambs, meaning we can breed for enhanced adaptation and resilience.
“However, this has an antagonistic correlation with other traits and can mean up to 10 per cent is lost in growth rate. So, in the future, we need to select to enhance both levels of performance and resilience.”
ON-FARM BENEFITS FROM RAMCOMPARE
RHYS Edwards, who runs 600 ewes and 150 ewe lambs with his family at Bridgend, South Wales, has been part of RamCompare since 2017.
He explained to delegates some of the findings of the project which were influencing decisions on farm.
Mr Edwards explained that having all ewes and rams EID tagged was a major factor in recording data and allowed sires to be linked to dams for lamb parentage, with all lambs followed right through to killing out percentage and grades.
Lambs were monitored for daily liveweight gain every two weeks. Mr Edwards said the outcome of lambs by two different Texel sires – ram 1, a ram with higher estimated breeding values (EBVs) supplied by RamCompare and ram 2, which turned out to have a much lower EBV, bought by himself at Builth ram sales.
Mr Edwards also said lambs by rams with lower eight-week weight and scan weight EBVs had lower daily liveweight gain. Out of 100 lambs, sired by 15 different rams, left at the end of the season, he said 30 were by one such ram.
One aspect of RamCompare was trialling different breeds of rams on individual farms.
Mr Edwards said: “Using a range of breeds has highlighted what suits our farm and our farming business and will impact on the rams we choose in the future.
“But it also depends what your business aims are. If you are selling store lambs, growth will be more important than killing out percentage.
“We are wanting to get lambs finished early while the price is good so are more likely to focus on growth rate.
“All the decisions we make are based on data collected by recording and monitoring and it is part of an ongoing process to constantly improve our flock.”