Our third and final nominee for the most improved LambPlus flock in 2020 is the Kilbride Vendeen flock which is owned by Neil and Ann Ford and is based near Ballyjamesduff, Co. Cavan. The flock was established in 2000 and has been a member of the LambPlus since 2009 and was active members of the LMI programme before that.
Neil and Ann have put a lot of faith into the €uro-Stars over the past number of years, stating that the progeny of high starred animals are performing better on the ground.
Despite their commitment to the €uro-Star values, Neil and Ann ensure that all animals they buy or register are true to the breed standard, are correct in every way and have good conformation. €uro-Stars are very much used in conjunction with the animal’s physical qualities with Ann stating that one is no good without the other. The proof that their breeding strategy is working is the repeat custom with commercial farmers coming back year after year for genetically superior rams that are produced without heavy feeding of concentrates.
When buying in animals the Fords try to get high €uro-Star values on both indexes and these values need to have a good accuracy figure also. Selecting for high starred animals and actively culling animals with poor stars has resulted in the 2020 lamb crop having an impressive average Replacement index value of €3.23 (€2.13 in 2017) and an average Terminal index value of €0.75 (€0.03 in 2017).
Data collection is an area where Neil and Ann are excelling with a very impressive flock DQI of 97%. All data recording is completed on paper and uploaded to the sheep Ireland database every two days during lambing and on the day if recording data such as lamb weights. Every effort is made to record data as accurately as possible and the lambs in the Kilbride flock are weighed as many as 6 or 7 times across the year to ensure accurate weights are available to track lamb performance. Data collection for the Kilbride flock does not stop with Neil and Ann as over the years they have had many rams involved with the CPT programme which has helped to link their flock to others and compare how their rams perform alongside the best in the country. The high level of data recording and inclusion of rams in the CPT have both contributed to the flock having impressive average index accuracies of 54%. Genotyping has also become a big part of the Kilbride flock which helps to improve index accuracies, confirms parentage, and provides scrapie certificates. The whole flock is now genotyped and this provides the opportunity to sell parentage verified and scrapie certified rams giving the customer great confidence in the animal they are buying.
Many sires have had a big influence on the flock but two that stand out are Lanmore Note (FPL14005) and Quitrent Sherman (OCQ18047). Lanmore Note was involved in the CPT programme in 2015 and 2016 and has 247 progeny to date. He has a Replacement value of €3.01 (4 Star) and a Terminal value of €0.77 (5 Star) both with index accuracies of 86%. His two stand out traits are his daughters’ milk (Top 2%) and days to slaughter figure of -7.55 days (Top 1%). Quitrent Sherman has also had a big impact on the flock and is the driving force behind the more recent genetic gain in the flock. He is a double 5-Star ram with impressive €uro-Star figures of €5.14 (Top 4%) on the Replacement index and €1.51 (Top 3%) on the Terminal index. Sherman is also very impressive on the sub-indexes being in the top 3% for number of lambs born, top 4% for lamb survival and top 3% for days to slaughter. Sherman’s ancestry is 3/4 French AI, which attracted Niall and Ann to him. They said that they are very aware of the small gene pool of Vendeen sheep in Ireland and go to great lengths to avoid inbreeding by sourcing new blood from France where possible and selecting Irish sheep from different breeding lines to their own. Sessiagh Thangbrand (MES19021) is another ram that was purchased based on his ancestry, excellent conformation and exceptional €uro-Star ratings with his first lambs being born in 2021. He has a €uro-Star value of €5.97 (Top 2%) on the Replacement index and €1.43 (Top 3%) on the Terminal index.
As well as purchasing some top-quality rams, the Kilbride flock has also produced some of the top Vendeen rams in the country such as Kilbride Ivanhoe (FNK09006), Kilbride Tornado (FKN19010) and Kilbride Vincent (FKN20014). Ivanhoe is a double five-star ram with a €uro-Star value of €3.63 (Top 13%) on the Replacement index and €1.50 (Top 2%) on the Terminal index with 76% and 78% accuracy, respectively. Tornado has an impressive Replacement index value of €4.03 (Top 8%) being driven by his excellent number of lambs born value of €3.90 placing him in the top 3% of Vendeen rams. He also has strong terminal traits with a days to slaughter figure of -4.4 days (Top 6%) helping to place him in the top 28% of Vendeen rams on the Terminal index. Vincent is a 2020 born ram with a €uro-Star value of €4.16 (Top 7%) on the Replacement index and €0.69 (Top 20%) on the Terminal index both at 64% accuracy. Vincent has great figures on the sub-indexes having a 5 Star rating for number of lambs born, daughters milk and days to slaughter.
The focused breeding plan over many years has helped to improve the genetic merit of the Kilbride flock which is recognised with this award and will also ensure the success of the flock for many years to come.