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New breeding values for abattoir traits revealed by AHDB’s Signet Breeding Services


The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board is to make new breeding values for abattoir traits an integral part of the National Terminal Sire Evaluation through its Signet Breeding Services, following significant analysis of abattoir data. This new approach coincides with the release of the latest RamCompare results at a webinar on 11 May 2023 (catch up here).  

The National Terminal Sire Evaluation is a multi-breed genetic analysis, used by ram breeders and commercial ram buyers to identify those sheep with the best genetics for growth and carcase traits. Over 20 Estimated Breeding Value (EBVs) are analysed each month, using data from a range of sources including ultrasound scanning and Computed Tomography (CT) scanning, which have significantly enhanced carcase attributes over the last 30 years.

The inclusion of abattoir records for analysis within the National Terminal Sire Evaluation increases the impact of RamCompare by improving the overall accuracy of data. RamCompare is a project focused on progeny testing terminal sires to identify the top performing rams throughout the UK.

During seven breeding seasons, RamCompare has recorded over 38,500 lambs sired by 400 rams, using both artificial insemination (AI) and natural mating. RamCompare has demonstrated the extent to which a lamb’s value at the abattoir is influenced by its sire’s genetics and enabled the project to rank rams based on these attributes.

The addition of the abattoir traits will be accompanied by the launch of a new economic index. “Lamb Value” has been developed at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) to identify the most valuable terminal sires based on their breeding values for abattoir traits. Lamb Value takes into account the value of increasing carcase weights and conformation at an optimum level of finish, but it also values the savings attributable to reducing days to slaughter, which are so often overlooked.  A publication explaining these developments will be available at the National Sheep Association (NSA) regional events; Sheep South West, North Sheep and Welsh Sheep.  

AHDB board member and Meatlinc breeder George Fell adds: “The inclusion of abattoir data into the industry’s genetic evaluations will take our analyses to a new level of accuracy, providing better predictions of genetic merit for those traits on which commercial producers are paid. This is a major step that will increase the value returned to those levy payers investing in performance recorded genetics.”

While pleased by these developments, AHDB’s Breeding Specialist Samuel Boon wishes to remind breeders that there are several sources of abattoir data available.

Sam says: “RamCompare has provided us with seven years’ worth of robust data on genetic evaluation, however, it’s important to remind producers that it isn’t the only source of abattoir data available. Many farmers already send in additional abattoir data to supplement the analysis, which now includes nearly 4,000 Poll Dorset and Dorset Horn carcase records. Interest in this area is increasing considerably and the RamCompare project demonstrates its value.”

RamCompare seven-year results webinar

Each year, results from RamCompare’s progeny test are released as an industry webinar creating interest across the breeding industry as the leading sires for carcase weight, conformation and days to slaughter are announced. The webinar will take place this year on Thursday, 11 May and is available to watch online, follow this link.

During this webinar, not only will producers hear which rams ranked highly within the project, they will also be able to go online and see which breeding lines currently lead their breed.

RamCompare is a joint-levy funded project supported by AHDB, Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), and Quality Meat Scotland (QMS); the project is also supported by Agrisearch in Northern Ireland and works with partners across the food chain.

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About the author

Bridget Lloyd

Bridget Lloyd – RamCompare Project Coordinator

After finishing university, Bridget worked on two well-known sheep research projects operating out of Aberystwyth University; the Longwool project and the Welsh Sheep Strategy.

In the year 2000, Bridget took a leading role in Cymru Breeding Services, (later Innovis and now known as AB Europe). Bridget was centre manager specialising in ovine fertility, operating a stud for 100 rams and coordinating four vet teams. She has specialised in ovine fertility and has worked closely with pedigree sheep and their breeders throughout her career.

With an extensive background in the sheep industry she now runs RamCompare. Her main responsibility is to liaise with project farms and abattoirs to ensure the data submitted is accurate and delivered on time, as well as co-ordinating the communication plan and ram nominations....and hundreds of other things.