It's that time of the year again when the minds of sheep farmers across the country turn to the breeding season.
Ram decisions have been made by most, so we just hope that our preparations in the run up to mating will pay off and that our lamb crop will be a good one.
The aim of flock owners each year should be to improve on the previous year as much as possible. There are so many areas that this progress can take place on the farm, but none more so than at breeding time.
Sheep Ireland's objective is to add value to the national sheep industry through improving the genetic makeup of our national flock.
We aim to achieve this by highlighting the rams with best genetic value and encouraging flock owners to use this information when making a ram purchasing decision.
It has been proven across all other agricultural sectors in this country (dairy, beef, equine, porcine) that bottom line profit can be boosted greatly through genetic improvement.
However, this genetic improvement movement has not taken hold of the Irish sheep industry to date. The question must be asked, why?
Potential genetic improvement is most effectively illustrated in economic terms; it is the amount of extra profit that a ram could add to each lamb he sires in any given year.
Currently Ireland is in the early stages of this genetic improvement process. Our top ram has an Overall Sheep Value (OSV) of just over €2.00. This means that this ram is predicted to add approximately €1 to each lamb he sires (as the ram is 50pc of the lamb), this assumes that the ewe has a €0 OSV. A ewe with a higher OSV in conjunction with this ram has the potential to add more value.
Our production system here in Ireland is often compared to our neighbours in Britain, where the purchasing of performance-recorded rams is the norm.
Many years of British flock performance recording and the adoption of the resulting information by flock owners has resulted in steady genetic improvement over the years.
The very top British rams have predicted economic breeding values of over €6, quite a considerable value to add to lambs in a flock.
The New Zealand industry has set the genetic improvement standard however. Currently the top NZ ram has an economic index of €14.40.
This illustrates very clearly the potential advancement that can be achieved. The rate of genetic gain that we can achieve and the economic benefit that can result, will be dependent on the involvement and participation of industry shareholders, pedigree breed societies, pedigree breeders, commercial farmers, factories etc.
Substantial and sustained breed improvement cannot be achieved without the willing participation of all sectors of the industry.
Sheep Ireland has been working to make this happen since the outset of the €uro-Star evaluation system, which is used to highlight our highest genetic merit breeding animals.
Adoption of this evaluation system by the industry is crucial if we aim to have a viable sheep industry.
This future may involve a move away from direct payments. If this were to happen today, our national flock would be left in a very vulnerable position.
Engaging with the wider industry will ultimately determine the success of the €uro-Star evaluation process. Sheep Ireland will host a sheep breeding consultation meeting on Thursday, October 6 (11am to 2m) in the Tullamore Court Hotel.
The hope is that anyone with an opinion or suggestion on how breed improvement can be advanced in this country, will attend on the day.
Anyone wishing to find out more about Sheep Ireland and the €uro-Star system can visit www.sheep.ie or call the Sheep Ireland office on 1850 600 900. Alternatively email:firstname.lastname@example.org.