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Weekly Update: 20/03/2015

Hill sheep performance recording

It is estimated by the 2011 Teagasc national farm survey that up to 24% of our breeding ewes are predominantly Blackface Mountain or Cheviot. These breeds have a huge potential contribution to make to the maternal genetics of Irelands sheep industry. Unfortunately the level of performance recording taking place within these two breeds is very low at present. To date no Cheviot sheep in Ireland have received €uroStar evaluations from the Sheep Ireland genetic evaluations. From a performance recording point of view the Blackface Mountain is in a slightly better situation with a number of breeding groups around the country now organising initiatives to begin capturing data.

See breakdown of ewe breeds within the Irish Industry combined with a summary of the five strongest performance recording sheep breeds with Sheep Ireland.

National flock breakdown by breed

Difficulties facing recording on our hills

The main issues facing performance recording hill sheep are practical ones. These practical difficulties begin at mating time, where controlled matings pose a problem. AI is used by an extremely small number of breeders, so single sire mating is the only realistic option available to breeders to assign a definite sire to lambs born the following spring. Parentage identification through DNA analysis is another option which will be researched through the new Ovigen project, at present this is not an economically viable option for hill sheep farmers.

Lambing time presents the next hurdle. Generally hill sheep farmers will lamb their ewes outdoors, where supervision at lambing would not be as intensive as your typical indoor lambing environment. Lambing of ewes indoors facilitates very easy data capture and ewes and lambs are easily handled. Compare this to a typical hill outdoor lambing environment, it can prove difficult to physically catch lambs and ewes to insert identity tags and record the identity of the ewe in question.


First step is parentage recording

The first step for all Blackface Mountain and Cheviot groups interested in performance recording is to capture parentage data. Without building the ancestry/family tree for a breed, performance recording will serve no benefit. The true benefit of performance recording can only be realised by combining the performance data of siblings, parents and all other relations to an individual animal. Only by looking at the bigger picture can Sheep Ireland possibly estimate future potential performance.

This week lambing notebooks were circulated to 80 Mayo/Connemara and 25 Kerry Blackface Mountain breeders that will be capturing parentage information from purebred lambs on their farms this spring. Many of these breeders will also collect some additional performance data. These breeders form the foundation of Blackface Mountain performance recording in Ireland which will hopefully continue to expand and develop in the coming years.


Blackface Mountain recording in DonegalBlackface Ram

Last week Sheep Ireland met again with some of the Donegal Blackface breeders that were interested in starting to record
parentage information on their lambs. The breeders acknowledged that the need for a centralised database to record their information is a positive step in the continued advancement of their strain of the breed. The database will enable the breeders to keep track of the bloodlines in their flock in greater detail as well as helping them to promote their flock more through use of the Sheep Ireland online Ram Search and Sales catalogues. However, it has to be acknowledged that this is a big step for
these breeders as recording is not traditionally strong within the Blackface breed in Donegal. Teagasc have kindly agreed to provide some help to these breeders to transfer their paper records onto the Sheep Ireland database in the initial years in order to give the breeders the best chance of continuing to record in the future. While these breeders may not be performance recording these animals, the establishment of a family tree is critical, as mentioned above. However, the first steps have been taken to producing Donegal Blackface sheep with stars at some point down the road.