Choosing your sheep stock for the future

An ambassador for a Welsh sheep genetic improvement project is encouraging farmers to carefully select rams and ewes in the flock as it has a major effect on the overall flock performance.

As sheep and ram sales are in full swing, the Hill Ram Scheme is encouraging farmers to set specific criteria for their flocks and to only choose fit, healthy and functional stock.

Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC)’s Hill Ram Scheme brings the latest technology to upland flocks in Wales with the aim of strengthening the Welsh sheep sector through long-term genetic improvement.

Heather McCalman, HCC programme coordinator, explained:

Perfect sheep are impossible to produce, but using information on current flock performance can help guide the farmer to choose the best ram to buy or use, and which ewes should be retained as replacements.

“Using overall index figures to select only those that are above average makes sense commercially, but the estimated breeding values (EBVs) will assist when looking to improve particular traits within the flock.”

Use of EVB’s

All of the Hill Ram Scheme Leader Flocks use EBVs to assist them with ram and ewe selection. Depending on their goals within their own flocks, farmers will look at different EBVs.

Bedwyr Jones of Gwastadanas, located in the heart of Snowdonia, has a clear goal in mind when selecting the following year’s replacement ewes and when choosing rams for the nucleus flock.

When selecting and purchasing rams for his flock, Bedwyr looks for a positive EBV for fat to ensure that the lambs will fatten quickly.

Bedwyr said:

My first priority after checking that the rams are fit to live and work, is the eight-week weight EBV. Lambs need that early growth so they can come off the mountain in great shape and finish on grass.

“I am keen to maintain ewe weight, but milk yield is also vital and I use the eight-week weight to assess this.”

The Hill Ram Scheme aims to help Welsh hill sheep farmers have access to the information on performance to enable them to select stock for the future that suits their flock and, in the long term, improve profitability.

HCC’s Hill Ram Scheme is one of three five-year projects in the Red Meat Development Programme which is funded by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh government.