Farm Ireland

Wednesday 21 March 2018

Ensuring you have worked through short- and long-term aims will make sheep breeding easier

clear goals are key for flock as mating kicks-off

Tommy Boland

Tommy Boland

Animal breeding in any animal production system involves the setting of both short-term and long-term goals, and sheep farming is no different.

Short-term goals include issues such as body condition score at mating and the selection of ewes for mating. Long-term decisions include what breed type do I want in my flock, will I breed my own replacements and what are the selection goals for my flock?

When do you start?

There is an old Chinese proverb that states: 'The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.'

To a certain extent the same applies with breeding.

The setting of clear goals for your flock is essential. Noirin McHugh from Teagasc recently indicated that 50pc of the production gains achieved in animal performance are attributable to genetic improvements (or selective breeding).

These types of gain are cumulative and permanent.

Each farmer will need to set his/her own targets. This will be tied up with a number of factors including geographical location, topography, other farm enterprises and lifestyle choices.

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Regardless of what the deciding factors are, the decisions must be made to suit the individual farmer's enterprise. There is no point in doing something just because the neighbours are doing it.

We are in very interesting times in terms of sheep breeding and animal breeding in general.

The EBI for dairy cows has reaped considerable rewards for that industry. Similarly, since 2007 and the inception of Sheep Ireland, a strong focus has been placed on breeding animals for commercial flocks.

The aim of the national breeding programme is to produce a low cost, easy-care sheep with good maternal characteristics. The ewes must produce quality lambs with high growth rates that will reach slaughter at a young age.


Part of the new breeding programme included the establishment of two recording initiatives, the central progeny test (CPT) and maternal lamb producer (MALP) groups.

Lyons farm is one of the CPT flocks and pedigree rams from a diverse range of recording flocks are mated to commercial ewes and all progeny have their performance recorded in detail.

The MALP flocks are slightly different and the data on lambs from a range of rams used across a range of commercial farms is recorded to identify rams of superior genetic merit across differing production systems.

At the end of the day a star rating is produced for the rams, based not only on its own performance but also on the performance of its relatives within the system.

The inclusion of the requirement to increase the genetic merit of the flock by using 'a ram of superior genetic merit' in STAP will place further focus on the Sheep Ireland system.

Participants must use a performance recorded €uroStar ram bred by a Lamb Plus breeder as certified by Sheep Ireland.

At the moment, animals are ranked within breeds by overall sheep value on a scale of 1-5.

The €uroStar index does not allow for inter-breed comparison. If an animal receives a one-star rating, it is within the bottom 20pc of animals tested within that breed.

If an animal receives a five-star rating, then it is within the top 20pc of animals tested within that breed.

Overall sheep value is defined as a 'measure of the overall sheep value of an animal' – which is a combination of the various sub-indices.

This is a fairly meaningless measurement taken on its own, but when the various sub-indices are included it makes more sense. The sub-indices are:

* Production index – Measure of genetic merit of a sheep for terminal traits;

* Maternal index – Measure of genetic merit of a sheep for maternal traits;

* Lambing index – Measure of genetic merit of a sheep for lambing traits.

So when it comes to purchasing a ram the use of the star rating system is an additional tool to aid in your selection.

It gives you further information on the ram, over and above what can be obtained by a physical inspection.

Quite often rams of different €uroStar ratings can be physically quite similar in appearance, so the star rating system will allow for a more accurate ram selection.

Irish Independent