26 September 2022

 

Using ewe efficiency data to guide breeding decisions in a Welsh upland flock has demonstrated the value of performance-recording in hill breeds, as those figures show that the top performing females in the flock are rearing twice as many kilogrammes (kg) of lamb than the average.

Through their project work as a Farming Connect Demonstration Site, lamb producers Llion and Siân Jones are performance-recording to identify the most efficient females for breeding replacements for their closed flock of Improved Welsh and crossbred ewes.

They need a hardy ewe that can produce lambs from a low-input system at Moelogan Fawr, near Llanrwst, Conwy.

The couple are recording data including numbers of lambs born and reared, lamb weights, health issues (such as lameness and mastitis), and body condition score (BCS), to select females from ewes that are robust in their system.

Their aim is to produce a closed flock, bred to perform outdoors off grass, with an average mature weight of about 60-65kg.

If replacements are being bred from within the flock, these should be identified at birth and bred from good maternal lines, advises independent sheep expert Kate Phillips, who is providing technical input into the project.

Ewes are weighed at tupping, scanning and housing, and when their lambs are eight weeks old and being weaned. 

Selecting ewe lamb replacements with higher growth rates up to eight weeks of age will generally be selecting for higher milk yield – but there is a danger that selecting only on growth rate will select for heavier mature ewes. 

Data captured electronically is used by Mr and Mrs Jones to identify which ewes are the best performers.

Analysis of that data from 2022 lambing has shown that the maximum kg of lamb reared per ewe was 62kg, compared to the average at 31.6kg.

That figure, in combination with kg/ewe mated, has been used to calculate ewe efficiency, and that shows a significant range – from 20% to 107% – with the average for the Welsh ewes at 56%.

Mrs Phillips says there is always a big range of efficiency within a flock, but adds: “It is eye-opening to see the actual data, to know that some ewes are passengers, and others are working really hard for us.’’

The data from the flock at Moelogan Fawr shows that the most efficient females are twin-bearing ewes, but Mrs Phillips cautions that, for hill breeds, rearing a big proportion of twins as replacements might take the flock in a direction that is too extreme.

“It is often better to have a ewe producing one decent-sized lamb, so that has to be taken into account when looking at the figures.’’

Regular monitoring of ewe BCS at key times during the year will also help guide ewe management. Some of the ewes in the Jones’ flock had lost two BCS points between mating and weaning, while the condition in others had not altered. 

“Selecting robust females who can rear lambs without losing too much condition is important,’’ said Mrs Phillips.

The better a ewe’s BCS at tupping, the higher her lambing percentage at scanning and her lamb’s weight at eight weeks and at weaning. Hill ewes at Moelogan Fawr are kept at a level BCS 2.5-3, avoiding peaks and troughs in condition.

EID also records any issues at lambing, and this information is flagged up when they are put through the race.

For flocks looking for maternal ability, lameness, mastitis and prolapse are red flags, advises Mrs Phillips. Selecting from ewes that have not been lame or had any other health issue will also help reduce disease incidence across the flock.

Although breeding efficiency into a ewe flock can be slow, the benefits are cumulative, and will result in a more productive flock in the long-term, says Mrs Phillips.

“Ewe efficiency can be used to evaluate flock performance and influence system changes,’’ she says.

“Lamb weight, ewe weight and lamb numbers can flag up a variety of potential issues.

Non Williams, Farming Connect red meat technical officer, who has been co-ordinating the project, says making use of on-farm records can help identify specific flock health, welfare and production issues, as well as help to set farm-specific targets and action plans to address these in the future.

“Establishing a good management system involving performance-recording is fundamentally important to assist breeding decisions in the future, and could also improve the farm’s profit margin,’’ she says.

Moelogan Fawr is also part of Hybu Cig Cymru's Hill Ram Scheme, an initiative that focuses on terminal traits, and encourages farmers to use performance-recorded rams to produce lambs.

It supports farmers in performance-recording using DNA technology and utilising EBVs to improve flock efficiency and performance. 

 

MOELOGAN FAWR FLOCK FACTS

Indoor lambing for crossbred ewes

Improved Welsh ewes lamb outdoors from April

All lambs finished off grass

Lambs sold at a deadweight target of 16kg-22kg

 

Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.


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