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Ram Compare

Update on RamCompare project by Bridget Lloyd

RamCompare was launched in May 2015, the UK’s first commercial progeny test and will run over two breeding seasons until 2017. Around 6,000 slaughter lambs will have weights and carcase information recorded to identify which rams have the most profitable genes for commercial sheep production. For the first time there will be a direct comparison between the commercial performances of rams from five terminal sire breeds.

The project aims to help sheep producers identify which genes have the biggest impact on speed of finishing and carcase value, as well as identifying the degree of difference between breeding lines for new traits like saleable meat yield and tenderness.

What is RamCompare?

RamCompare involves a partnership of six commercial flocks and 14 organisations. Over two breeding seasons, 67 rams will be tested from five breeds producing 3000 commercial lambs per year for data collection.

RamCompare is the first step in assessing the feasibility of running a commercial progeny test in the UK. It will help the sheep industry understand whether data collected from farms and abattoirs on cross-bred slaughter lambs can be used in genetic evaluations. The project will also enable the sector to examine how the performance of lambs from different terminal sire breeds compare under commercial conditions.

The six commercial flocks selected represent a range of UK systems, all are experienced EID users and each has provided a group of uniform ewes that are bred to produce commercial lambs. Each farm will hold an open event over the course of the project.

You can keep up to date with the commercial flocks involved and latest project developments by visiting ramcompare.com or following us on Twitter @RamCompare.

Data collection

On each farm, four ram breeds are used Texel, Suffolk, Charollais and either Meatlinc or Hampshire Down. 120 ewes are equally split between four AI sires and 200 ewes are split into five groups of 40 for natural service using the same breeds; four new RamCompare sires and a fifth “farm choice” ram, enabling the flock to compare performance of new rams against their own farm stock ram.

On-farm EID data collection is crucial to this project with lambs tagged at birth and followed through to the abattoir, a range of data will be collected:

  • Sire and dam information – To generate a pedigree and link related lambs together
  • Date of birth – To calculate ages at weights and events
  • Rear type (single or twin) – To ensure differences due to management can be accounted for
  • Lambing ease – To monitor the impact of rams on lambing ease
  • Deaths – To ensure deaths can be accounted for in the analysis
  • Fostering information – To account for singles or triplets being reared as twins
  • Birthweight – To act as a baseline for future weights
  • Eight week weight (plus date) – To understand the impact of maternal ability on growth rates
  • 90 day weight (plus date) – To collect a weight at a similar age to standard weaning
  • Ultrasound measurements – Around the 90 day weight, compare against the values from their sires
  • DNA sample – Parentage/abattoir cross checks, with a proportion stored for future genomics work
  • Sale weight – To be used to calculate killing-out percentage
  • Carcase weight – To be used to calculate killing-out percentage
  • Fat classification – To compare against the values from their sires
  • Conformation classification – To compare against the values from their sires
  • Saleable meat yield – On a proportion of lambs to relate back to sire’s predictions
  • Tenderness – On a proportion of the lambs to understand the variation that exists

Project outcomes

Currently EBVs of rams from different breeds cannot be compared directly. This project will enable rams to be compared irrespective of breed with the development of a combined breed analysis. At the end of the project lists of the top 25 rams based on the growth rates and carcase data of their progeny will be compiled. Rams of different breeds can then be a compared directly.

Data from the project will be used in the future to develop new EBVs for days to slaughter and carcase weight.

Combined-breed evaluations

Combined-breed sheep genetic evaluations are currently available in several countries including Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.

AHDB Beef & Lamb is funding a project at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) that will utilise RamCompare data to validate a new UK terminal sire evaluation. This combined-breed genetic evaluation allows multiple terminal breeds of sheep to be evaluated simultaneously and, where good genetic linkage exists, animals from different breeds can be compared via the resulting EBVs.

The UK version should be available to Signet clients in 2016.

Ram selection

Rams used in the project are selected based on their estimated breeding values (EBVs) and breeding lines. Linkage between other flocks is important, especially for the rams destined for use by artificial insemination (AI). A breeder can have up to two rams selected for the project and is paid a fixed fee for semen/rams.

Texel sires used in year one

Two AI sires were chosen to cover 30 ewes each on three of the six farms, both will be used again this season on two more flocks.

2015 – “Gaynes Major” CMG06129 – Described as a big powerful sheep, well fleshed with plenty of scope. This “Lumbylaw Java” son has been an influential stock ram at the Aragon, Gaynes and latterly Collwood flock of Trinidad Investments. With over 200 progeny, he still ranks impressively within the breed for a 2006 born sheep. His pedigree contains many of the influential sire reference scheme rams of the past and was a logical foundation ram for the Collwood flock, managed by Peter Sutton at Trinidad Investments.

2015 – “Roxburgh Shotgun Willie” EJR1101108 – one of the stock rams at Mathew Prince’s Stonedge and Hightecs flocks. At the time he was the second highest indexed lamb in the country. He is sired by “Drinkstone Peacemaker” (PJP09040) and out of a dam by “Lumbylaw Malton” (ORL06083). This ram has over 250 progeny in a number of flocks and semen has previously been available through the EBLEX Ram Linkage Scheme.

2015 natural service Texel rams

Six Texels were purchased to run as single sire natural service groups(one for each farm) these rams included:

Tynewydd MDY1400927 – Drinkstone PJP1304727 – Kimbolton PPK1400417

Miserden AAS1401255 – Miserden AAS1401351 – Penygelli PAP1401307

In the first year each flock has used an additional performance-recorded stock ram that was owned by the farm (farm choice), one of our farms used a Texel PR11473 UK0561473 as their farm choice ram.

Full estimated breeding values and pedigrees for rams used are available at ramcompare.com

2016 Texel rams

RamCompare is pleased to announce that five new sires have been selected for performance testing in 2017. These rams will be used via AI on either two or three of the trial farms. Data collected on their progeny will help to strengthen statistical comparisons made between other rams already on test and those that will be used for natural mating.

“Stainton Vantage II” WPS1400599 has been confirmed and will join the 2016 AI team.  Stainton Vantage II, WPS1400599 was the top price lamb at the English Premier in 2014 at 5400gns. He was bought by James Draper, Claybury Texels and has been used widely in the Claybury, Hope Valley and Glanllyn flocks with 130 progeny on the ground. This Anglezarke Uno son, represents a widely used bloodline that is new to RamCompare. He has excellent EBVs for growth and muscling, as well as tending to be leaner than many of the sires on test – hence the projects interest in the time taken to finish his lambs.

We were delighted with the number of ram nominations received for year two of the project with a total of 29 very interesting Texels being presented from 72 rams in total. This demonstrates a keen interest in the project from pedigree breeders with an eagerness to be involved, we are grateful for the support of the project.

We are opening nominations for six Texel rams to join the new natural service team at each farm this summer.  We are looking for rams with high estimated breeding values (top 20% of breed benchmark) that offer a diversity to genetics already on test. There is a maximum of two per breeder and rams must come from Maedi Visna accredited flocks. If anyone is interested to nominate please email Bridget.Lloyd@ahdb.org.uk, nominations will close on 31st March 2016.

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