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Southdown - Successful first season

Successful First Year for Southdown’s in the RamCompare Project

Update written for the Southdown Breed Society by Project Leader Bridget Lloyd from AHDB Beef and Lamb. Bridget explains the work of the project and how Southdown tups are helping out

With 18,500 lambs recorded over four years, RamCompare is one of the UK’s largest and most high-profile sheep research projects.

Established to find the most profitable terminal sires for UK lamb production, data is collected on nine partner farms – with a series of on-farm events explaining the role of genetics in ram selection delivered across the UK this summer.

In 2019 we received over 200 ram nominations from which a team of 65-70 new sires were selected. The project has now tested 276 rams from 11 breeds, with Southdown’s joining the project in 2018. To date we have used six Southdown rams through artificial insemination (AI) or as natural service sires. Progeny are assessed throughout their life, with abattoir data used to generate estimated breeding values (EBVs) for carcase weight, conformation, fat class and most recently, days to slaughter.

Monthly updates

Signet’s Terminal Sire Evaluations are now completed on a monthly basis, with RamCompare data relating to lamb growth rate and ultrasound scanning feeding directly into the analyses; thus updating the EBVs of selected rams and their relatives.

Abattoir traits

EBVs for abattoir-derived traits are updated annually, with tables showing the leading breeding lines available at the start of the ram selling season. The latest results are available at

Abattoir activity remains a vital part of the data collection and is improving our understanding of the relationship between measurements taken on the live animal (eight-week weight, scan weight, ultrasound muscle and fat depth) and those collected when lambs are slaughtered, the traits on which farmers are paid.

Each year, 12 lambs are selected from each progeny group to assess primal yield and tenderness. The breeding values generated from this data highlight the potential to change the yield of meat within the carcase and the potential to enhance tenderness. 

Highlights for the Southdown

In 2019, 180 Southdown sired lambs were recorded from three sires:

  • Ridings Daniel 218:131444, a ram with good (93%) accuracy supporting his  breeding values for Eight-Week and Scan Weight EBVs, combined with his Muscle Depth EBV placed him in the top 5% for the breed
  • Andersey 883:170607, had good figures for his Eight-Week Weight and Muscling EBVs and sat comfortably within the top 10% for the breed when selected
  • Andersey 883:170545, with an Index of 221 when selected, he sat above the breed average for the breed
  • Three new sires have been provided for the mating in 2019.
  • These rams are on test at Richard Parry’s farm near Ipswich in Suffolk, an open farm event is planned at this farm where Southdown progeny will be on display

Southdown Results so far – a sneak preview

The official RamCompare results will be published in early May, but with the initial analysis of results completed – we do have some preliminary findings.

Three rams were tested last season, (AI sire) Ridings Daniel 218:131444, (with semen kindly provided by Patrick Goldsworthy) and the two natural service sires from Rob Beaumont’s, Andersey flock - 883:170607 and 883:170545. Conception rates were good, the AI ram had 36 progeny and the two natural services sires had 68 and 76 lambs respectively – so they have been well tested on their respective commercial farms.

In all three cases, the rams have thrown lambs that are well-muscled across the loin relative to their size. This was noted when lambs were ultrasound scanned at 90 days of age and was picked up again later, when carcases were broken down into primals (front, leg, loin and flank).

Ridings Daniel, had the highest breeding value for Carcase Weight of the three sires – throwing carcases 0.4kg heavier than the project average – and this led to him being the highest rated of the three Southdown sires tested.

The two Andersey rams, both had slightly better conformation – with 883:170545 being ranked 20th out of 211 rams tested on the project to date for Carcase Conformation EBV. Given the range of breeds tested, including many highly muscled continental sires - this is a great achievement.

The other Andersey ram, 883:170607, had progeny that finished extremely fast – and ranked 22nd overall for Days to Slaughter.

While all three rams tended to have more finish than many of the other rams on test, and thus more positive EBVs for fat classification, it was within the primal data that their muscle yield became apparent. The high conformation of Andersey (883:170545) is one of the top rams in the overall project for the weight of meat in the middle primal, i.e. the loin, when assessed on a weight adjusted basis. This attribute is a function of both a high yield of meat in the loin and a reduced yield in less valuable areas, such as the shoulder.

Caution should always be taken in making sweeping statements on the basis of results from just three rams in a single trial. However, these results show the carcase value generated in breeding lines that have been assessed and selectively bred using Signet’s ultrasound scanning and recording services, as well as the place for Southdown rams in modern, commercial sheep production.

What have we learnt and what do we want to know?

The project has done a great job of enhancing our understanding of traits measured on farm and at the abattoir, highlighting which on-farm traits are good indicators of value to the commercial producer and which carcase attributes may be better assessed directly using CT scanning or abattoir data. 

The project clearly shows the variation seen in the value of sires. Extra value worth £3-£5/lamb or £600-£800/sire is commonly seen on farms, with the overall RamCompare breeding index doing a great job in highlighting the highest value animals.

RamCompare activity 2020

Phase II of RamCompare is just entering its final season with lambs being born this spring, and discussions have been underway regarding the continuation of the programme (RamCompare III).

Although AHDB recognises how vital animal breeding and genetics is for the future of the sheep industry and remains committed to this as a major plank of its technical activity.  A decision has been made to pause the initiation of RamCompare III. 

This is so that AHDB can conduct a thorough review of their genetics work to ensure that its impact is maximised. The review will contribute to the development of a longer-term strategy for beef and lamb breeding and genetics work, recognising that this is the foundation of a successful beef and sheep sector. In the meantime, AHDB remain committed to delivering RamCompare II effectively and maximising the impact that can be achieved from the programme. 

In many ways, for the coming year it is business as usual. Results will be published shortly and summer will be spent collecting data on the new lamb crop across our partner farms.

As there will be no additional funding (beyond the completion of Ram Compare II) in the coming financial year and the project is limited in what it is able to do in the 2020/21 season.

It may be possible  to continue to collect data from single sire matings on a couple of the current farms and we have already had a couple of Southdown rams donated to the project for progeny testing on this basis – an offer we gratefully acknowledge and appreciate. We are discussing the continued involvement of the Southdown breed and will provide updates as available.

For more information please go to or read more about Rob's story and that of the Andersey flock

Bridget Lloyd - On behalf of the RamCompare team