Genetics and Feed Quality Are Key; on a Recent Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Travelling Fellowship Tour of New Zealand to Study Grassland Management and Sheep Husbandry, Roger Perkins of Island Farm, Pembrokeshire, Found Sheep Farmers Had Secured a Profitable Long-Term Future

Article excerpt

SINCE the virtually overnight removal of all subsidies in 1984, the breeding flock has been reduced from 70 million to 45 million and land previously used for sheep farming transferred to forestry and dairying.

Sheep farmers have fought back and careful selecting replacement breeding stock from twin bearing dams has meant that total sheep meat production and exports have actually increased!

The traditional Romney ewe has been blended with Finn Dorset (for prolificacy) and Texel (for meat quality) and this has raised lambing percentages from a national average of 100% pre 1984 to 150% today.

Carcass weights have also risen from 13-14 kg. to 17-18 kg. Most lambing problems have been bred out with any ewe that has to be assisted at lambing, or loses her lambs, culled from the flock. This has meant that one shepherd can now look after more ewes and fewer ewes with no lambs at foot are kept through the summer.

Genetics are playing a major part in raising production and efficiency to further heights and breeders are looking at individual performances for selection rather than general breed traits.

Some breeders are now selling a brand of sheep rather than a breed and customers act as franchisers, selling their finished lambs through a central marketing group.

Potential replacement stock must be capable of not only producing higher lambing percentages but also producing progeny capable of achieving high growth rates. …