Lleyn breeder Duncan Nelless farms at Thistleyhaugh Farm, near Morpeth in Northumberland. The farm has been organic since 2005.
Duncan started breeding Lleyns in 1995 with the purchase of in-lamb ewe lambs from John Geldard. He likes their maternal abilities and easy-care characteristics, which is important when running multiple enterprises on one farm.
Ewe numbers have risen gradually by buying ewe lambs or shearlings, and keeping home-bred replacements. The last externally reared ewes were purchased in 2003. The flock now stands at 1200 pedigree Lleyn ewes and 540 ewe lambs.
EID Pays Off
Duncan started EID recording in 2007, collecting a wide range of figures including parentage, litter size, mortality, assisted lambings, birth treatments, udder conformation, mastitis, maternal instinct and lamb weights at key growth stages.
In 2009 he joined Signet and began submitting lamb weights at birth, eight weeks of age and 21 weeks of age. He also ultrasound scans lambs at 21 weeks to identify animals that are superior for carcase traits of economic importance, such as muscle depth across the loin.
“As we had already been recording the flock using EID, it took a long time to get all the data into the Signet database,” says Duncan. “But it was definitely worth it as we can now draw on it to quantify our genetic progress, and analyse trends for individual animals. Figures are a very useful management tool.”
EBVs Improve Flock Performance
Duncan selects replacement ewe lambs based on their maternal Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). These determine prolificacy as well as an animal’s ability to produce and rear lambs up to eight weeks of age. As no concentrates are fed, there is no buffer for milking at lambing, so the ewes must perform well on their own and be good mothers.
When buying a new stock ram Duncan tends to buy from performance recorded flocks he knows. Rams are used in single sire mating groups, where rams are rotated after one cycle. A team of seven mature rams is used, as well as nine tup lambs to provide progeny testing for ram lambs coming through the system.
Most of the rams are sold as shearlings to commercial farmers running closed flocks. They are largely sold off the farm, and marketed by word of mouth. Potential customers also use the SignetData.com website to search for animals’ EBVs and Indexes. Of the 27 rams sold last year, nine were sold through society sales.
“It is heartening to see that commercial producers are starting to take an interest in EBVs,” says Duncan. “I am very happy to explain the figures behind an animal to those with less of a grasp on the data.”
Shane Conway – Signet