Around 100 farmers attended the recent “Breeding for Performance” roadshow at Draperstown Livestock Market organised by AFBI, AgriSearch, CAFRE and LMC.

Speakers at the event included Sam Boon (Signet); Dr Aurelie Aubry (AFBI), Dr Eileen McCloskey (CAFRE) and Dr Jason Barley (AFBI).

Genetic potential and flock management both have a big role to play in farm profitability. Sam Boon from Signet breeding services kicked off the evening with a presentation on the importance of selecting animals with the best genetics not animals that have seen the biggest feed bucket. The use of estimated breeding values (EBV) provides farmers with the necessary information required to select best genetics for their flock and improve profitability. Sam outlined the recent changes that have been made to the Signet EBV breeding service which include a monthly update on EBVs ensuring farmers have the latest figures when selecting animals and a move to weight adjusted carcase traits.

Sam discussed the RamCompare UK project, which is now in its fourth production year saying “RamCompare one of the largest sheep datasets of it’s kind, collecting performance on 3,000 lambs each year. To date, we can see a good correlation between ram EBVs for muscle depth and lamb conformation in the abattoir.”  Sam highlighted that results to date show the use of rams with high scan weight EBV will reduce progeny days  to slaughter by 10-14 days thereby reducing feed costs. Sam concluded his talk by saying “It’s important as producers that we focus on our flock breeding objectives, select sire with the best genetics and with high EBVs for traits of interest to our flock.”

Sam Boon (AHDB) speaking to a packed turnout at the recent “Breeding for Performance” event in Draperstown Livestock Market.
Sam Boon (AHDB) speaking to a packed turnout at the recent “Breeding for Performance” event in Draperstown Livestock Market.

Dr Aurélie Aubry from AFBI presented preliminary results of the RamCompare NI project aimed at improving the understanding and use of EBVs in the Northern Ireland. The AFBI flock has tested more than 16 Suffolk and Texel sires over the past two breeding seasons.  Initial year one results show lambs from high muscle EBV rams have achieved higher daily liveweight from eight weeks of age to weaning and reach slaughter 12 days earlier than progeny from low muscle EBV rams in the project.  Thus demonstrating  a clear benefit to the use of top genetic sires.

Flock health can have a significant impact on the bottom line financial performance of all farms i.e Better Health = Better Profits. Dr Jason Barley from AFBI’s Veterinary Sciences Division discussed at the event how farmers, vets and farm advisors can all work together to implement an effective flock health plan on farm.  He encouraged farmers to benchmark current flock performance, and identify three key areas to improve and gave examples of reducing lamb losses, mastitis or reducing antibiotic usage on farm as some of the areas of interest to many farmers. These are all areas that farmers can make significant improvements in by benchmarking and implementing a vaccination and routine treatment plan at key stages throughout the production year.

Dr Eileen McCloskey from CAFRE closed off the evening proceedings with a talk on how to best improve flock efficiency and integrate technology on farm. Eileen commented “We have a lot of control over our physical performance and farm costs and it is important that we maximise flock performance to reduce farm costs.” As farmers it is important that we measure farm efficiency, record performance yearly, and set new performance targets to allow us to continually improve our farm businesses.” For example, if a farm can increase the number of lambs weaned from 1.5 to 1.7 lambs per ewe this has the potential to increase ewe profitability from £120 to £136 a ewe, equating to an extra £1600 profit per 100 ewes.

Eileen added further that there are many ways to record data on farm and encouraged farmers to explore the many products and systems available on the market and to use EID to record ewe performance, lamb live weight gain particularly 6 -8 week weights as this will give a good indication of ewe milk yield and flock nutrition.

Electronic copies of the event booklet can be downloaded by clicking here .  Hard copies can also be requested by contacting AgriSearch on 028 92681539.  The organisers would like to sincerely thank the management and staff at Draperstown Livestock Market (Richard Beattie Livestock Sales) for hosting the event. 

Further mart based events for the beef and sheep sector are planned for the coming months as part of the “Future Proofing Beef and Sheep Farming” series of events being organised by AFBI, AgriSearch, CAFRE and LMC.