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As one of the longest running Signet-recorded Southdown flocks, Stephen Humphrey is truly convinced of the merits of using EBVS to select the best possible animals

“It’s the measuring stick of your genetic improvement in your flock. There’s no point having a good looking ewe if it won’t perform,” he says. “You find out stuff about your flock that you can’t tell by eye – especially the growth and the fat cover now.

The 165 ewe East Dean Southdown flock originates from the Eartham Flock that Stephen’s father purchased in the early seventies. More recently, Stephen and brother Paul have been marrying flock EBVs with visual assessments to select their ideal South Down breeding animal.

Stephen explains: “Over the last 10 years, we’ve selected for growth, leanness and length – more by eye. Plus the eye muscle – that’s a bit secondary but we don’t want a small eye muscle. An ideal ram is one that produces a fast growing lamb that finishes easily off grass or you can take it to the hogget stage and produce a quality hogget at up to 18-21kg.”

Over the last decade, The East Dean flock has made marked gains in muscle depth, with the muscle depth EBV improving from around 0.1 to about 1.4mm. This compares favourably to the breed average of about 1.18mm. This indicates improved genetics for muscling in the eye muscle across the loin. Growth rates to scanning have also improved. The flock has an overall genetic index of 198, versus a breed average of 191.

Stephen retains about 2-3 of his best rams from the top 5 per cent. He will also buy in some tups, usually from Signet-recorded flocks.

His own Southdown rams are also used on the 150-ewe flock of commercial Suffolk cross Mules to produce hoggets which are sold liveweight.

Pedigree Southdown ewe lamb replacements are selected first by eye and then by EBVs – although an animal must have good figures in order to be retained. Stephen adds: “I try and keep a bit more true to type and you want milkiness. That links back to the rams. You want a ram that will throw good mothering traits.”

Around 20-25 tups and 70-80 females will be sold a year, with most heading to commercial producers. Some will be sold at the Southdown national sale at Worcester and also at Builth Wells. The rest go off farm.

“The EBVs get you a good name as they know they’re getting good sheep from you,” adds Stephen.

The main Southdown flock lambs in February-March with a handful lambing in January to produce show sheep. The Humphreys have had good success on the show circuit, including reserve female champion at the recent Devon Show. They have also won the Royal Welsh Southdown Champion over the years.

On winning The Decade of Progress flock Award, Stephen says: “I’m very proud to win the award. It reflects all of the hard work we’ve done. We’ve been in it for 20-30 years. It’s good to be recognised for the achievement in the flock.”