Suffolk breeder John Garner farms at Godwick Hall, near Kings Lynn in Norfolk.
John joined his father on the farm in 1954 and bought his first Suffolk ewes in 1960. He took over the management of the farm in 1962, and ten years later started breeding pedigree Suffolks, building up to 100 head. The flock has been involved with the Sire Reference Scheme since it started in 1989. John now has a flock of 40 pedigree Suffolk ewes.
John uses the figures generated from performance recording as a marketing tool – if a customer likes the look of one of his rams he then uses Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) to show he also has the potential to deliver lambs with economically important traits. He also finds indexes useful for demonstrating how good a ram is within his breed. One ram, Drinkstone Supersire 2004 has had a major influence on the flock over the years.
On 12 August each year John’s 40 pedigree ewes are artificially inseminated using semen from four different rams. Any that do not conceive go to a Blue-faced Leicester ram for two cycles to produce ewes for the commercial flock. These are then crossed onto a Southdown ram to produce lambs that finish at grades around R3L.
“The beauty of AI is that I can select semen from particular sires to match certain individuals within the flock,” explains John. “It is good for recording purposes and breed planning”
All lambs are ultrasound scanned at around 21 weeks of age to accurately assess their muscle and fat depth. John looks for animals with good conformation, taking particular notice of their top line, loin, hindquarter and legs. He also looks at the Muscle and Fat Depth EBVs for each animal. Replacement ewe lambs are chosen based on this data and selection criteria. Ewe and ram lambs that fail to make the grade are finished and sold.
Customers starting to look for figures
John’s main customers are commercial producers with flocks of 750 or more ewes, who buy directly from the farm. He says they are often impressed by how quickly lambs produced by recorded sires grow and finish.
Shane Conway – Signet