This year as part of the Central Progeny Test (CPT), Sheep Ireland is mating a proportion of the ewes naturally. To do this Sheep Ireland is purchasing ram lambs from Pedigree breeders that fit the criteria.
How will the Natural Mating work?
There are 4 CPT Flocks and each flock will get 3 rams. The idea is to allow approximately 100 ewes run with a group of 3 rams for the first cycle. We will run all the rams together in the one group as it provides protection in the case where a ram may be infertile or sub-fertile, or, in the case where a ram may not be active, there are 2 others to get the job done.
How will we know who the sire is?
You might ask the question, if there are 3 rams running with the ewes, well then how could we know who the sire is? The answer to that is simple, it is through the use of DNA Technology. At lambing time, Sheep Ireland technicians will be busy collecting data on all lambs born in the CPT. In order to facilitate this data collection, all lambs are EID tagged at 24 hours. As part of this tagging, we take a DNA sample from all the lambs. All the lambs will be genomically tested and that way, we will be able to identify the correct sire of the lambs.
How are the rams selected?
Our main selection criteria for the rams is that they have a very high Replacement Index and that they are from a bloodline that was not previously involved in the CPT.
We also need to have the rams genotyped prior to purchase, so we can be sure that their €uroStars are as accurate as possible. Where possible, we required both the Sire & Dam to be genotyped so we can DNA verify the parentage of the lambs before purchase. The lambs will also undergo a physical inspection. Rams that have physical defects or are not suitable for breeding will not be selected. We also engaged with the relevant breed societies to get their input on the types of rams we should be selecting and pursuing. As the Natural Mating is a new element of the CPT Mating, we decided to go with 4 breeds, Belclare, Charollais, Suffolk & Texel. If the pilot is successful, we would hope to increase the number of ewes that will be naturally mated in the coming years.
At this stage, we have identified a shortlist of 20 rams and the genotyping process is now underway for these animals. Once all genomic results are back, we will then select our team of 12 rams based on their genomic evaluation.
How much are we paying for the rams?
Sheep Ireland will pay €600 for each ram. The way we came to this figure is as follows. We looked at the average price of the 4 breeds combined at the LambPlus 5 Star Sale in Tullamore for the last 3 years, which was €545. We then multiplied this by 1.1, to give the breeder a premium on the average, which gives us our figure of €600. The Irish Texel Sheep Society has also decided to put forward €200 for each ram, meaning the breeders of Texel Rams will receive €800 for their rams that are selected for the CPT. We will circulate the details of the 12 rams once the list has been finalised.