Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Blackface breed society established in the west

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Fears over inbreeding and dilution of the Mayo-Connemara Mountain Blackface breed have prompted sheep farmers in the west to create a new pedigree sheep society.

There is currently no formal flock book for the breed and the ancestry of many sheep sold at sales is only passed on by word of mouth. This carries a higher risk of inbreeding as rams with unknown ancestry could be bought back as sires into their original flocks.

Breeders are also concerned that the genetic traits of the Mayo-Connemara Blackface breed are in danger of being diluted as a result of crosses with other Blackface breeds.

Sheep breeders are now in the early stages of assembling a committee to establish a formal structure, and are interested in hearing from owners of Mayo-Connemara Mountain Blackface rams and ewes. It is believed that there are 30-50 purebred flocks, along with many more flocks where some cross-breeding occurs.

The new society will use a database provided by Sheep Ireland in which breeders can record births, pedigrees and other information. Sheep Ireland will then be able to produce pedigree certificates and sale catalogues for the society.

Teagasc sheep specialist John Noonan is to facilitate the society's formation, and is already deeply involved in a 120-strong mountain sheep producer/discussion group in the region.

"The aim of setting up the society is to get more information about the sheep and use it to identify the most superior rams to use on the ewe flock," he said.

"It is well proven that farmers who flock record and select for maternal traits, milk production and growth rate have more profitable flocks.

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"We are focusing on Mayo-Connemara Mountain Blackface rams first as rams offer the fastest way to improve genetic gain."

The Teagasc specialist added that the new society would help to increase productivity and profitability levels on all hill farms.

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