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3rd May 2012

Commercial sheep farmers set to reap the rewards from the continued boost in Texel performance recording

The UK’s commercial sheep farmers are set to gain another significant improvement in lamb performance in the coming years thanks to the commitment of Texel breeders to using performance recording to increase genetic gains.

This year will see a record number of Texel flocks recording, with another 16% jump in the number of flocks using Signet recording to gain valuable insight in to their flocks’ performance, says British Texel Sheep Society chief executive John Yates.

“More and more commercial sheep farmers are using performance recording figures as an extra tool when buying tups. They want the inside knowledge about the tups to back up their visual appraisal of them

“With lamb prices riding high in recent years it is understandable that farmers want to invest wisely when it comes to tup buying. The tups are half the flock and having as much information at hand when buying them is vital to ensure high value lambs and successful sales.”

The 16% rise this year pushing the total number of recorded flocks to close on 200, comes on the back of very strong performance last year which saw a 27% rise in the number of recorded flocks on the previous year and a record number of Texel lambs CT scanned too, explained Mr Yates.

“There hasn’t been any incentive offered by the Society to encourage this growth, although best practice is always promoted to the membership, it has been commercially driven by teh evident demand in the industry. This is perhaps a realisation by many members that if you don’t measure it you can’t manage it, backed by an increase in the value paid for recorded stock between breeders and demand from commercial buyers adding more confidence.”

“The extra 28 flocks now drives the total number of recorded lambs to 16,500, which represents 25% of the population,” added Mr Yates. “This also creates a new milestone in the breed and across the recorded industry with 200 fully recorded Texel flocks now involved."

And it’s not just commercial farmers who are valuing the data given by performance recording, with a number of last year’s leading rams at Texel Society sales carrying with them high performance figures.

These sheep also commanded high places in the breed championships and went on to record some of the highest prices too. Meanwhile, at Kelso, one Europe’s largest commercial ram sales it was a Texel in the top 1% of the breed which sold for the day’s highest price of any breed.

But, there is no doubting the driver for this increase in recorded flocks, says EBLEX breeding specialist and Signet manager Sam Boon. “It is being driven by an increasing demand from commercial producers.”

"At the English, Welsh and Scottish National Sales recorded Texel rams with indexes in the top 10% of the breed consistently achieved higher prices - averaging an extra £600 a ram at the English National for example.

"And more significantly they achieved much higher clearance rates, indicating a strong commercial demand for performance recorded rams with superior genetics. This indicates a strategic change in the way that buyers are selecting Texel stock rams - which has massive long term benefits for the industry."

Jeff Aiken, flock manager of Procters Farms, winners of the EBLEX most improved flock award, concurs with this view, with commercial demand one of the drivers for recording in the Procters flock. “One of the main reasons we started recording was demand from our commercial customers. If the commercial guys believe that rams with good figures will produce lambs that grow quicker and sell better with good grades, then the whole thing is working towards a common objective.”
Breed character and Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are used to determine which lambs are retained in the Procters flock, with a particular regard to muscle depth, gigot and overall index. They must have good legs and feet – with the disadvantaged terrain good mobility is essential.

Local commercial producer David Gibbons who runs 230 ewes on a farm near Preston, bought two shearling rams from the Procters flock last year. He produces prime lamb for Dunbia, aiming for 20kg deadweight grading E or U.

He had purchased performance recorded rams of other breeds before, and was keen to continue. Using the EBLEX breeder directory he bought from his most local performance recorded flock.

“The Procters flock is sourcing from the top bloodlines and they have high index stock,” says Mr Gibbons. “This has a positive knock-on effect; when you buy animals from them you start to access these benefits yourself.”

As some crossbred lambs are kept as replacements, Mr Gibbons is particularly interested in maternal figures and is looking for milkiness and good mothering ability as well as fast and fleshy lamb growth.

Meanwhile, leading Welsh breeder Steve Smith of the Pen Parc flock, Welshpool, has recently signed up for recording again after several years of not recording. “Recent changes to the index and a higher number of flocks recording have given me more confidence in the system. On top of that we’re seeing more and more commercial producers looking for recorded Texel tups. We have to respond to what the customer wants and provide good, correct sheep with decent figures too.

“Additionally, with the national flock shrinking, but a similar number of tups being produced buyers can afford to be more ruthless in their selection. We need to use all the tools we can to breed and sell tups they want to buy.”


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