Philip and Charlie Whitehouse
Profiting from reducing days to slaughter at Bradley Farm
Ram selection can make a big impact on flock profitability, but it isn’t easy to spot rams with high genetic merit “by eye”. Two rams that look similar may have very different genetic merit, so it is crucial that producers have access to Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) when selecting rams, as they provide an objective way to assess a ram’s breeding potential.
While every farm is slightly different, the terminal sire rams used for breeding will influence flock profitability in two main ways:
- Increasing the value of the lambs produced, by changing their weight or grade
- Reducing the cost of lamb production, by reducing days to slaughter
A ram’s genetics have a big impact on both of these attributes.
Philip and Charlie Whitehouse run 1000 Lleyn ewes at Bradley farm, in Gloucestershire with 400 mated to terminal sires in February – while the rest are bred pure. Ewes and lambs are turned onto clean swards, initially supplemented with a small amount of creep, to get lambs away quickly. The majority of a lambs are finished by 150 days of age.
At Bradley farm, it is vital that lambs are finished quickly, this frees up grazing for tupping and finishing store lambs later in the year. High growth rate sires were selected to help Philip get lambs finished quickly.
High genetic merit for growth means earlier finishing progeny
Nearly 1400 lambs have been recorded at Bradley farm and these have been sired by 31 different rams. The data has shown a 20 day difference between sires in the time taken to reach slaughter weight. Ram genetics clearly have a big part to play in determining how fast lambs can be sold. Selecting rams with high Scan Weight EBVs means their progeny will finish more quickly; reducing finishing costs and the grazing pressure on the farm, while potentially capitalising on higher prices.
Will selection for high growth rates be at the expense of carcase value?
While it is important at Bradley farm to get lambs to grow and finish quickly, this must not be at the expense of the overall value of the lambs produced; which in turn is influenced by both carcase weight and conformation.
This chart shows the average genetic merit of the ram’s used at Bradley farm plotted against their genetic potential for days to slaughter. The chart shows a group of Suffolk sires, which achieved extremely fast finishing lambs, which tended to have a lower overall carcase value – while some of the Meatlinc, Charollais and Texel sires producing higher value carcases – that tended to take longer to finish.
While it is important identify the areas you wish to improve in your flock, it is also important to understand how traits relate to one other – including those which may be antagonistic. Ultimately most flocks require a balance between speed of finishing and carcase quality. This balance can be achieved by selecting for a range of breeding values that influence both growth rate and carcase attributes.
What are high genetic merit rams worth?
Looking at the average value of a sire’s progeny relative to our prediction of their genetic merit, the impact of using high genetic merit sires can be seen clearly. Differences of £4/lamb are typically observed when looking at the progeny of rams with high genetic merit for carcase traits, which over a working lifetime could easily be worth an extra £1000 per ram.
Clearly a little time spent in selecting the right ram, is an investment worth making. For more information on how to select recorded rams go to the Signet website – which also hosts a list of recorded rams currently for sale.
A farmer's view of the project
Phillip Whitehouse comments “On a practical note when selecting sires for our farm, we use EBVs as a way to avoid the rams and bulls that have been pampered and over-fed, so we can make our choice from those sires who have EBVs in the top 20% of the breed”
“The rams supplied over the years have come in all conditions and breed types, presented from top show condition to those very much in their commercial working clothes, however it is clear that this has little bearing on the appearance of their lambs. Thus proving to us that EBVs are far more important than both ram appearance and condition. These rams have all produced high quality lambs which is clear from a very early age.”
“There will always be a sheep industry, because these animals utilise land which other enterprises cannot benefit from but in order to remain successful in the industry, it is vital to drive down cost of production where we can and it is clear to us that genetics play an important part in that.”
- In an enterprise that relies on finishing lambs quickly, the genetic merit of rams has a key part to play
- A ram’s Scan Weight EBV provides a good prediction of the speed with which its lambs will reach slaughter weight.
- EBVs for both Scan Weight and Muscle Depth influence the overall value of lambs produced, due to their impact on carcase weight and muscle depth.
- High genetic merit rams can lift carcase values by £4/ram.
RamCompare’s involvement at Bradley farm has now come to an end, with the 2019 lambing records being the last data set that we plan to collect. Philip and Charlie have been fantastic supporters of this project from day one, providing invaluable help, support and enthusiasm since the very start of the project. This even included coming to our aid to finish and capture data for lambs bred on another RamCompare partner farm during the summer drought of 2018.
They have gone above and beyond, in their role as project partners – knowing full well they were giving back far more to the industry than they gained for their efforts. Bridget, Liz and Sam greatly appreciate the support and encouragement provided by Philip, Charlie and the wider team at Bradley farm over the past four years.