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Finalist of Highest Achieving LambPlus Flock 2022 – Michael & Sarah O’Neill, Charollais, Bolinaspect

Michael & Sarah O’Neill is one of three finalists for this year’s Highest Achieving LambPlus Flock. The Bolinaspect flock was established over 33 years ago and is located south of Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford. Michael & Sarah has been performance recording with LambPlus since the programme began in 2009 and lambed down 41 purebred Charollais ewes in 2022.

Michael and Sarah take great care with the breeding decisions they make, and they are continually fine-tuning the breeding plan with the physical characteristics of the animal taking preference followed closely by €uro-Stars.

Data recording in the O’Neill flock has been consistent over the past number of years with a constant effort being made to maintain and improve completeness, timeliness and quality of data recording such as lambing difficulty, mothering ability, ewe milkiness as well as  accuracy of lamb weights recorded. All these phenotypic traits being logged on the Sheep Ireland data base in a promptly manner.

The O’Neill’s boast a very impressive flock DQI of 98%, which has been kept consistent with a DQI of 98% in 2021 and 94% in 2020.

To improve flock linkage and animal accuracies Michael and Sarah made their stock ram available to the CPT programme in 2018 (Kilbarry Hugh). The improved data collection and inclusion of a stock ram in the CPT have helped the Bollinaspect flock to achieve strong genetic linkage and higher index accuracies for their flock. Kilbarry Hugh has been a highly influential ram with over 400 progeny, Kilbarry Hugh is in the top 4% of the breed in his Replacement Index at €3.70 (5 stars) and is in the top 7% of the breed in his Terminal index at €2.26 (5 stars). There is a high percentage of Kilbarry Hugh breeding still in the O’Neill flock currently, which is no surprise given the excellent performance of this influential ram.

The hard work and effort put into data recording and making selection decisions based on genetically elite breeding stock has paid off for the O’Neill’s in terms of flock genetic improvement as their Charollais flock has an average Replacement Index of €2.06 and an average Terminal Index of €1.76. One of the main focus’s for the O’Neill’s is improving the genetic merit of their flock by selecting rams with high breeding indexes before introducing them into their breeding programme. Breeding indexes as well as the breed characteristic’s of the Charollais breed, such as good muscling and strong hind quarters are at the forefront of their minds when selecting breeding rams. Not only do the O’Neill’s focus on the breeding indexes of the rams they use, but they also give as much attention to detail on the breeding indexes of their breeding ewes in the flock which is extremely important in any breeding program. Some of the main focuses in terms of the Replacement index is good milk ability and good mothering of breeding ewes.

Since 2014, after having participated in the Ovigen Project, the O’Neill’s have continued genotyping breeding females in their flock, which has had a major effect on the accuracies of the breeding indexes of the overall ewe population in their flock, driving the average accuracy of ewe indexes up t0 63%.

When selecting breeding rams to breed with the ewes in their flock, they pay particular attention to the specific indexes that need to be enhanced, for example, if the Survivability index of specific ewes is particularly low, then they pay particular attention to the Survivability index of the breeding ram they will put to them ewes to increase the genetic merit of their offspring. They use this train of thought of careful selection across the board when it comes to analysing breeding indexes of both the rams and ewes in their breeding flock, which is excellent practice and proves that putting serious thought into the structure of a breeding program pays off in the long run when improving the genetic merit of a flock.

The overall winner of the highest achieving LambPlus flock will be announced at the Sheep Ireland Breeding Conference & Farm Walk on the 12th July. The winner will receive a cash prize of €1,000, an engraved trophy and bragging rights for the year ahead. The two other finalists will receive a cash prize of €500 and a framed award. FBD kindly sponsors the LambPlus awards. Flocks were selected based on a number of criteria including the genetic merit of the flock based on the Replacement & Terminal Index, the DQI of the flock and the Accuracy of the breeding values within the flock. These awards are to acknowledge the effort and contribution that these breeders are making to the National Sheep Industry.