Sheep Ireland will become 10 years old this year, in the last ten years we have managed to put the foundations in place for a world class breed improvement programme. We have done this by investing in breeding programmes (CPT & RamPlus), genetic evaluations, farmer engagement and data collection.
When Sheep Ireland started in 2009 there was less than 100 breeders involved in a breed improvement programme, this figure is now over 700 and growing. Not only is the number of performance recording breeders growing but the quality and quantity of data that each of these flocks are recording is also improving year on year.
This is fundamentally important because with out data on sheep we can not run evaluations to create the €uroStar ratings. And the more data we have the more accurate the €uroStars become.
The €uroStars are important as they allow farmers to identify at the point of purchasing a new ram which ram is most likely to be the most profitable. By profitable we mean faster growing, easier lambed, better confirmation, reduced levels of lameness and dagginess and breed daughters with more milk and lower mature weights.
More importantly, we can demonstrate that the €uroStars are working. A recent study undertaken by Noirin McHugh, Fiona McGovern and Alan Bohan (Teagasc) showed that flocks that consistently use 5 Star rams to produce their factory lambs and to breed their replacement females will on average end up with an increased net profit of €5/ewe/year. Simply by choosing to adopt this technology and no other extra input is required.
This €5 comes from a combination of saved labour (fewer lambing difficulties, less foot bathing/pairing etc) and increased ewe and lamb performance. One of the largest elements hindering accelerated genetic gain is the slow rate of wide scale adoption of this technology by farmers, this is in part due to the fact that they do not record labour input and therefore do not observe if the amount of time invested per ewe is declining on an annual basis. The majority of farmers do not keep detailed notes that would allow them to compare the lambing performance of their flock year after year or the average weaning weights. Therefor some farmers may be increasing their profitability but feel as if they are not, or not attributing it to the better genetics they have brought into the flock. Unlike cattle, sheep have a very tight carcase weight to target, so faster growing animals do not necessarily reach heavier carcase weights (and therefor make more per/head), instead they reach the ideal slaughter weight quicker. Again, time to slaughter is not something routinely recorded on most Irish Sheep farms.
The table below shows some of the differences in performance between 1 and 5 Star parents.