Farm Ireland

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Lamb Plus is a boost for breeders

Michael Gottstein
Michael Gottstein

Michael Gottstein

At this stage lambing is drawing to a close on many sheep farms. On farms that are involved in producing pedigree rams for sale, the lambing will almost certainly be finished and with stock out and the sun shining, it's time to do a bit of office work.

By office work I mean entering the performance data of your lambs on Lamb Plus. Many breeders simply do not know enough about Lamb Plus and may therefore be reluctant to join. Below I have answered some of the more common queries regarding joining the scheme.

What is Lamb Plus?

Lamb Plus is a relatively new initiative that was set up and is run by Sheep Ireland, an offshoot of the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF). Last year (2009) the first pedigree rams came onto the market with Euro Star ratings for various production traits. These Euro Star ratings are similar to those in the beef industry which have, at this stage, been widely accepted by commercial farmers as being an important tool in selecting breeding stock.

In addition, research has clearly demonstrated that the progeny of five-star bulls are worth more than the progeny of bulls with fewer stars. Similar research is now being carried out in commercially managed sheep flocks to compare rams and validate the data behind the Lamb Plus Euro Star ratings.

What are the benefits?

Participating in Lamb Plus allows pedigree breeders to evaluate not only the lambs that they will be selling but also the ewe lambs that they will be keeping as flock replacements. This allows the breeder to make better decisions about which stock should be retained and what animals should be culled or run on as commercial sheep.

On the ram side of things commercial breeders are becoming ever more interested in high-merit rams. Experience with Euro Star on the cattle front confirms that farmers can quickly identify stock that help them reach their breeding objectives. Last year, good-quality stock with high indices commanded premium prices at pedigree ram sales. It is likely that, as more commercial sheep farmers become acquainted with the indices, the demand for high-index rams will rise.

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How much does it cost?

The cost of participating in the scheme is a pittance compared to the benefit that sheep farmers and the sheep industry in general will gain from a proper functioning performance recording programme. Where the breeder chooses to input the data him/herself online the cost per annum is €50 (by direct debit) or €60 (by cheque). For individuals who do not have a computer or internet access, there is a paper option which will cost €90 (by direct debit) or €100 (by cheque). This fee covers the basic genetic evaluation programme. Muscle and back fat dent scanning, faecal egg counting, etc are charged extra but these are optional extras that the breeder is not obliged to participate in.

So how do I get started?

Getting stared is simple. You need to sign up on a particular form that is available from the Sheep Ireland website ( or you can request one by phoning Sheep Ireland on 1850 600 900.

Once you have filled out the form you will be given a username and password that will allow you to log on and input data (or send it by post). The data being collected is simple. You will initially have to enter your ewes and rams into the system. Then all you need to do is record births, sex of lambs, lamb identifiers, lambing difficulty, and weight at birth, six weeks of age and at weaning.

What is actually measured?

Currently the three indices being measured are:

Production sub-index -- this measures animal performance such as growth rate, etc;

Maternal sub-index -- this measures the maternal ability, fertility, milk yield, etc;

Lambing sub-index -- lambing difficulty, etc.


These indices allow commercial farmers to select rams that are strong in traits that they require in their flocks. The sheep industry needs to adopt these indices to breed better sheep in the future.

For a commercial sheep producer, buying a high-index ram makes commercial sense and that ram should command a premium price over a ram with no figures. This in turn should encourage more of the pedigree breeders and breed societies to get off the fence and embrace this initiative.

Irish Independent