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Sheep Breeders Round Table

Sheep Breeders Round Table 2015

The Texel Sheep Society, along with Regional Clubs ‘match funded’ the attendance of Texel Young Breeders at the 2015 SBRT Event  held in Nottingham – at Eastwood Hall, Nottingham from Friday the 10th until Sunday 12th Novemeber 2015 .

The SBRT is a biennial gathering of sheep farmers and scientists to discuss the issues that influence the breeding of sheep in the industry.

Attendees Summary

The 2015 Sheep Breeders Round Table, Nottingham, once again saw the Society and the regional Clubs sponsor a number of young members to attend, including Robert Evans, Hope Valley Texels – Shropshire, Charlotte Watkins of the Millend flock – Herefordshire, Phil Loveland of the Greylands flock – Kent, YDP Secretary Anna Minnice-Hughes of the Pen Parc flock – Welshpool, Molly Hobbs of the Elkstone flock – Gloucestershire and Will Sawday the Society’s Technical Manager. Commenting on the conference all delegates found the weekend informative and thought provoking, with Charlotte Watkins saying it had enabled her to appreciate the need for continued genetic improvement in sheep production. “It was clear from the conference that new ideas from other countries and even species should be relished as these can help us maximise productivity. “Following a difficult year for the industry with regard to market prices it was great to see the level of passion and forward thinking demonstrated by the speakers.”

Meanwhile, Molly Hobbs said the conference had helped her realise the importance of the UK sheep industry and research facilities were on a global scale. “There is a lot of scientific work going on behind the scenes which most sheep breeders have little knowledge of. However, this will all undoubtedly help them run their businesses in the years to come, with mastitis and worm resistance just two areas where current research is likely to impact future production.“I was also impressed by the level of collaboration shown in the Norwegian industry, something the UK industry could learn a lot from.”

Kent-based Phil Loveland found the conference particularly useful as a new flock owner and came away with a number of useful contacts to help him develop his flock in future. “I learnt an awful lot in just a small amount of time and I’m looking forward to being able to put some of it in to practice over the next few years as I develop my flock.” The current research investigating the genomics of mastitis also featured during the conference. Texel Sheep Society technical manager Will Sawday presented an overview of the project to delegates detailing why the society was keen to investigate the genetic aspect of mastitis using genomics and what the project involved in terms of data collection and genotyping.

The project was also highlighted by SRUC during the poster session. Out of over 30 sheep related research posters on display throughout the weekend, covering a range of novel and innovative scientific studies, it went on to win the delegate vote for the best poster during the SBRT awards presented on the Saturday evening.

Will came away from the conference filled with enthusiasm and confidence in the sheep sheep industry. “Gathering a wide range of speakers from differing backgrounds in an informal situation gave attendees a great opportunity to learn and discuss the topical issues and prospects in the sheep world,” he added.

Winning Texel Poster 


Sponsored Young Breeders reports 2013

Rob Pierce, Beth Lawrence & Sam Palmer

Robert Pierce

I was fortunate enough to be nominated by the Shropshire and Borders Texel Club for a scholarship to attend the 2013 Sheep Breeders Round Table held last November. The organisation had its first meeting some 30 years ago with a handful of sheep breeders and scientists sitting down and sharing information and ideas. This year there were over 160 people from all over the world present with 32 speakers across the 3 days, creating an action packed itinerary.

The title of the biennial conference was ‘transforming data into profit’. I have been performance recording for two years now and felt I had got very little out of the recording process so far so I was interested to see what I could learn at the conference. The first seminar gave me plenty of information to digest as we heard about terminal sire evaluations and the potential for across breed analysis in the future.

The amount of data, facts, figures and general insight into the future developments within the industry was staggering. Discussions moved from signet recording of rams to the use of genomic selection within the sheep industry and the potential benefits this could bring. This included assessing potential future shifts in trait emphasis as the industry as w whole moves from maternal ewes grazing upland pastures to producing high value meat with less inputs including labour and concentrate feeds. Genomics could be a revolutionary breeding tool for both the sheep and industry and the Texel breed if used correctly. I felt though there is a risk the industry is trying to ‘run before it can walk’. Currently only 11% of the rams in the national flock are performance recorded; with 6% of commercial lamb producers claiming to only buy a performance recorded ram and 70% claiming to never buy one, should the industry not be focussing on getting more commercial producers to use performance recorded ram before thinking of progressing onto genomics?

The sheep industry is approximately 60 years behind the pig and poultry industry, and 30 years behind the dairy industry in terms of sire analysis. Whilst it is important that the sheep industry moves at a rapid pace lessons should be learnt from some of the catastrophic mistakes these industries have made in terms of sire analysis and selecting the wrong characteristics to breed for. Greater and faster progress can be made from learning from others mistakes.

Attending the conference has given me confidence in developing the Oldford flock further in the future whilst giving me an insight and understanding into potential future developments within the sheep industry as a whole. The conference has been a very worthwhile learning experience that I am sure will be useful for years to come.

I would like to firstly thank the Shropshire and Borders Texel Club for nominating me for this award and secondly the Texel Society and their YDP in providing the scholarship and investing in the future of the society and its breeders.

Beth Lawrence – Rhiew flock

It was with great pleasure that I attended the biennial Sheep Breeders Round Table Conference with sponsorship from the Texel Society as a young breeder. The conference theme was ‘Turning data into profit’ centring on the use and potential advancement of Estimated Breeding Values(EBVs) and genetic evaluation within the sheep industry.

Friday started with a Signet update outlining that the Texel breed still makes up the large proportion of lambs scanned at 10,024 last year but other breeds are increasingly utilising the service to enhance their breed. From the premier sales, Signet stated that having a ram within the top 10% of breed EBVs added £360-1,800 per ram over and above an average EBV ram.

We then went on to discuss the pros and cons of across breed EBV analysis, which is in development but also discussed the different strengths of each breed, some of which wouldn’t be represented by the current EBV measures. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to view the values and be able to select for more maternal breeds or for carcass, I believe this would increase the diversity of breeds on any one farm, exploiting the theories of hybrid vigour and heterosis.

We were then lucky to have an insight into the Swedish sheep industry where over half the flocks only have 10-20 ewes and the biggest flock consisting of 900 ewes. Despite a lack of markets, the price of lamb was generally quite strong at £6.80kg/DW. The major challenge to their enterprise was predators and weather, having to house for approximately 6 months of the year using approximately 100kg of straw per ewe. They are also challenged by lack of genetic diversity, being unable to import any live animals, this meant they had three core breeds which they would cross with imported semen if they desired certain characteristics of other breeds.

Bleary eyed from the night before, we were up bright and early for the second day of talks, where we had an interesting talk from Neil Perkins, Farmers Weekly Sheep Farmer of the Year 2012, who discussed the main elements of his sheep enterprise, stating that each ewe should produce her own weight in lamb at weaning and also explained his grassland management strategies for efficiency of production. Data from last year shows a difference of £30 per ewe in the top 1/3 versus the average performing lowland flocks, which is of huge impact in today’s economy.

John McEwan visiting from New Zealand then went on to discuss genomics, and how they are progressing from EBVs to genomics in selection with the technology now becoming relatively cheap, identifying and utilising genes such as MyoMax. We then debated genomic selection and how its quick identification can allow for rapid genetic gain within the industry and most importantly with confidence. It also allows genetic evaluation of traits that are difficult to quantify such as wool qualities and meat yield.

Sunday morning focused on the ewe and the genetics of lamb survival. With some previous attention drawn to ewe longevity, we then learnt that with increasing age past four comes increasing lamb mortality. We were also told something that we already knew and that is that the female is more elite sex being more likely to survive over a male lamb, with the males having more worms and more foot rot. It was also advised that it may be beneficial to pick female replacements from female-female twins and to preferentially manage male lambs due to heavier birth weights and faster growth rates.

Research has demonstrated that there is an increasing proportion of crossbreed ewes and decreasing number of purebred ewes but the Texel still showing dominance both siring the cross bred ewe and also then being the terminal sire. This is largely at the cost of the Suffolk that has lost 58% of the market to Texels in recent years. Nevertheless, composite breeds such as the Meatlinc or Easycare continue to increase with their advantageous adaption to grass fed systems.

Finally, something which I also believe in, is the use of on farm post mortems as far too many sheep are lost before farmers initiate veterinary assistance. A survey of dead stock by Fiona Lovatt and Ben Strugnell found that many of carcasses had easily diagnosed conditions such as fluke or OPA, highlighting that utilising vets can stop further losses and be an economically sensible intervention.

Overall, it was a fantastic weekend where I came away with many ideas and learnt a great deal, which I will be able to utilise myself and pass on to fellow sheep farmers in my job. The key outcomes I learnt is that you must have the right sheep for the right system and that data can only help in your selections, so even minimal data recording such as birthweight, weaning weight or body condition scoring ewes can hugely help the output of a flock. The weekend was also very social and I met many inspirational people and was pleased to meet so many young sheep farmers, most of whom were farming in modern and original ways leading me to believe that young people can succeed with the right initiative. Finally, it was reassuring to see the Texel come out on top in many trials, securing the breeds’ future.

Sam Palmer – Ninevh flock

I was going into the weekend with a negative attitude regarding figures and performance recording of sheep, however after talking to some big commercial sheep breeders and company representatives from Eblex and Signet, it is something I can move towards with my pedigree flock.

As a dairy farmer myself, I know all about running your business as efficiently as possible and with the sheep industry being around 30 years behind the dairy industry at the moment, I really do admire the hard work that companies like Eblex and Signet are doing to push the sheep sector forward, it just has to take more of us sheep breeders to jump onto the scheme.

I also have learned, and found very interesting, that the global market is rapidly growing. Countries like Hong Kong, China, Brazil, Russia and our trade neighbours India, are increasing their imports of lamb. However I learned that this mainly comprises of New Zealand and Australian lamb. But it does offer a massive potential too the UK sheep sector.

I feel after this conference that we really do need to take a leaf from our kiwi friends and establish ourselves a lot more on the world market; we really do need to promote and market our lamb a lot more commercially. It is good know that as a young farmer myself, there is light at the end of the tunnel and there does hold a future in the sheep sector.

There was a debate about genomics and how we should push towards this approach more in the UK, I listened in detail to the positives and the impacts it has had in New Zealand. However I’m not convinced, I felt that we can go too far and as a pedigree breeder we would not benefit in the long run, it would follow the pig and poultry sectors and instead of talking about breeds and breed selections we would be talking about strains of sheep, it would involve the whole of the UK using 1 to 3 strains of sheep and personally I thought this would not benefit me.

I have learned that we need to be more self efficient and more cost effective, and not too be scared of running different systems to maximise our production. I have met many interesting people from throughout the UK and the world; I have spoken to scientists from universities, abattoir owners and farmers and have learned a great deal.

I would like to thank the Texel society for this opportunity.

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