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New Breeding Evaluations for Hill Sheep

New Breeding Evaluations Increase the Value of Genetics in Hill Sheep Breeding Programmes

Press Release                                                                     

HCC20076 / 25 August 2020

Major changes to the way farmers evaluate the genetic merit of hill sheep are set to make the selection of hill rams easier and more profitable.

The Hill Ram Scheme, which is one part of Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales’ (HCC) Red Meat Development Programme, brings the latest technology to upland flocks in Wales, with the aim of strengthening the Welsh sheep sector through long-term genetic improvement.

In collaboration with the Hill Ram Scheme, sheep geneticist Dr Janet Roden has developed a new Welsh Hill Sheep Breeding Index to help identify animals that thrive in the hill environment and optimise the efficiency and economic performance of hill sheep. The new Welsh Hill Sheep Breeding Index has just been published online, and will be launched and discussed further as part of HCC’s webinar series on Tuesday 1 September.

Dr Roden explains, “The index takes into account the need to increase lamb growth rates, carcase weight and conformation, while simultaneously enhancing the maternal characteristics of the ewe and her ability to successfully rear lambs on the hill. Further research is planned to look at traits linked to lamb survival and ewe longevity.”

As part of the Hill Ram Scheme, Signet Breeding Services is about to relaunch its performance recording services for hill sheep producers.

Samuel Boon, who has been leading on the work on behalf of AHDB Signet says; “A key change is a new approach to the assessment of muscle and fat depth measurements using ultrasound scanning. The evaluation of these important carcase traits will now be done on a liveweight adjusted basis to give them a greater commercial focus – as well as enabling ram breeders to enhance the carcase attributes of their hill sheep without increasing ewe mature size.  The new analysis will be delivered on a monthly basis, meaning breeders and buyers always have the latest information at their fingertips – which in many cases will mean via laptops and smartphones through Signet’s new website

Heather McCalman, HCC Programme Coordinator explains; “Performance recording schemes are important in helping commercial farmers select genetically superior rams for their enterprise. But performance recorded rams are vital in hill sheep breeding programmes where many of the economically important traits are expressed by a ram’s daughters and when buying a ram, are impossible to assess ‘by eye’.

“Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) help reduce the risk of buying poorly-performing rams and help producers to match the rams with the right genetics to their flock requirements.”

The new Welsh Hill Sheep Breeding Index can be found on HCC’s website and will be the topic of discussion in the next webinar which will be held on Tuesday 1 September on HCC’s Facebook at 19:30. Heather will be joined by both Janet Roden and Samuel Boon as the Index is launched. The presentation will be followed by a live question and answer session.

HCC’s Hill Ram Scheme is one of three 5-year projects in the Red Meat Development Programme which is funded by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.



Notes to Editors:

More information about the Hill Ram Scheme and the RMDP can be found here.


  1. A group of Epynt Hardy Rams on a Hill Ram Scheme farm
  2. Dr Janet Roden, Sheep Geneticist
  3. Samuel Boon, Animal Breeding Senior Manager, Signet
  4. Heather McCalman, HCC Programme Coordinator


For more information contact the HCC Press Office on 01970 625050 / [email protected]




About the author

Samuel Boon

Samuel Boon

I am the Manager of Signet Breeding Services, within the AHDB.

Enthusiast on all things genetics to do with sheep and cattle and currently also supporting Bridget Lloyd in running the @RamCompare progeny test with ~18,000 lambs/annum.

I am also involved with the:-

  • Relaunch of Terminal Sire Breeding Programmes (Sheep)
  • AHDB lead for the Welsh Sheep Breeding Project run by HCC - working with Innovis, HCC and Janet Roden
  • Database design and development for this website
  • National Sheep Breeds Survey
  • Development of Carcase Trait EBVs in Beef Cattle
  • Formerly involved with the delivery of the Welsh Sheep Strategy, Northern Upland Sheep Strategy, Suckler Cow Project, Highlands and Islands Sheep Strategy

I can be followed on Twitter @SamBoonBreeding