Ramming home the EBV message

John Macfarlane
John Macfarlane

FARMERS from all over the region and beyond will be heading north tomorrow for the annual Kelso Ram Sales.

Simon Bainbridge, who runs Northumberland’s Monitor Farm, at Donkin Rigg, has been setting out what he will be looking for when he selects his tups for the autumn.

Simon Bainbridge

Simon Bainbridge

A key factor for his purchases will be the Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) of the sheep he buys. EBVs provide an invaluable insight into the genetic potential that a ram can bring to a flock. Genetic Gain makes great commercial sense. If EBVs are used wisely production levels can be moved up a gear or two.

Simon said: “This is the time when you create your potential to make maximum profit next year and for years to come. It’s crucial that you get it right. Use EBVs. You can’t always judge a book by its cover.”

Although Simon has already bought tups from Willy and Carole Ingram, at Logie Durno near Aberdeen, and from Hans Porksen, of Gallows Hill Farm, near Scots Gap, he needs more quality breeding stock which he knows he will find at Kelso.

Simon knows exactly what he is looking for to run with his flock of 1,200 ewes, North of England mules and Swaledales, with some Swaledale Cross Hexham Type Blackface.

These are Suffolks, chosen because they have higher growth rates and heavier lambs.

Simon’s second choice is Hampshire Downs. “These also have good growth rates, and the lambs are likely to have a good covering of wool on their backs, and be more vigorous at birth. This is certainly something that is important in the Cambo area,” he said.

Simon reviews his existing tups, before he even sets out to buy replacements. He does ram MOTs to make sure his ram Ttam are tip top and able to do their bit for the business’s bottom line.

His list of requirements, from a stock judging point of view is simple.

He said: “With being organic and lambing outside from April onwards and trying to have a low input system, I want the sheep to be able to lamb outside on its own, with as little shepherding as possible. So the ewes need to be maternal and the tups to have been bred outside.

“I need a tup that will produce a small lamb that the ewe can easily lamb herself outside.

“The lamb has to get up and go, and the male must have a good growth rate and one which has more fat so that I can sell it early in the season. My aim is to have a good eight-week weight and a good muscle depth.

“I am looking for a breeder who is breeding his tups in the same way that I am lambing my sheep.

“When looking for tups, I follow the same principles that anyone in business knows. I follow the six ‘p’s religiously: Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

“I will complete as much research beforehand as I can, then when I get to the sale I know the exact breeders I want to talk to. I shall quiz him or her for as much information as possible, as well as using my stock judging skills.”

John Macfarlane, of Alnorthumbria Vets and one of the Monitor Farm’s project co-ordinators, said: “When it comes to breeding sales, health should be at the top. Remember that every sheep you buy could come with a free disease.

“Buy one get one free offers are common when it comes to sheep diseases!”

If you don’t consider the health status of replacements seriously, you can stall your productivity altogether, or worse still, put it in reverse. Buy from breeders who can give reassurances that their flocks are clean.

In an ideal world, John said he would buy his breeding replacements from a breeder who was MV, OEA and scrapie accredited; had treated with Cydectin LA (for scab), Zolvix (for resistant worms), Fasinex (for fluke) and Micotil (for footrot and CODD) before the sale; had tested for CLA and BDV before the sale and was willing to give assurances on Orf, Johne’s, Jaagsiekte and ringworm.

John said although the list sounds daunting, a potential bidder should try to get reassurances on as many of these as they can. They should also find out what the tups were fed before the sale and what mineral and vitamin supplements they were given.

The final advice comes when the tups arrive back at the farm.

John added: “Remember to quarantine them when you get them home and get them onto your system as quickly as possible.”

Simon said: “Kelso Ram Sales is to sheep as Paris Fashion Week is to models, so I won’t be buying purely on figures. So as you will have to wake up to your tups every day for the next few years, you also need to ensure that you purchase something that is good-looking and handsome.”

The aim of the Monitor Farm project is to improve efficiency and productivity at Donkin Rigg and share successes (and failures) with farmers in Northumberland and beyond.

It focuses on four main areas: Soil structure/fertility and grass/forage management; sheep production; cattle production; business efficiencies (environmentals, renewables, banking etc).

Regular open meetings are held at Donkin Rigg, where the farm’s progress and development is examined and discussed.

Regular inputs from experts from all aspects of agriculture and the rural economy are a key feature of each meeting.

Wherever possible, these focus on relevant features of the farming year.