The award is presented by the AHDB Beef and Lamb Better Returns Programme (BRP) to the recorded flock that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of ten UK breeds.
Gallows Hill is a National Trust owned farm comprising of 137ha of grassland. With Severely Disadvantaged and Less Favoured Area status, it is managed in line with the Higher Level Stewardship Scheme.
Hans took over the tenancy in 1990, having previously been involved in farm management, agricultural education and consultancy. Since then he has established pedigree performance recorded flocks of Suffolk, Texel and Bluefaced Leicesters and commercial flocks of Scottish Blackface, Mule and Suffolk cross sheep.
Using the Sire Reference Scheme and performance recording to excel genetics
The Hans Flock of Pedigree Suffolk sheep was established in 1983 from a number of sources, the main influence were draft ewes from the ESCA flock, which was the research flock at SAC Edinburgh. Hans’ flock was a founder member of the Suffolk Sire Reference Scheme and was a director on its management board for the entire duration of the scheme’s existence.
Laparoscopic Insemination has been used in the flock since the late 1980’s as a way of bringing new genetics into the flock, with some of the best males in the breed being accessed.
In the past he has exported Suffolk embryos to Australia, trading superior genetics on a world-wide basis while keeping the risk of disease to an absolute minimum.
“In the UK, breeds like Texels and Suffolks have made great progress as the result of sire reference schemes,” said Hans.
“Using semen from elite high-indexed rams in numerous flocks during the same year provides valuable flock linkage and increased accuracy of evaluations for those involved.”
Hans started recording with Signet in the 1980’s when he established the flock.
“As an animal husbandry lecturer at an Agricultural College I was aware of the fantastic progress being made in other livestock sectors entirely due to genetic improvement. So why not sheep?
“Since the arrival of BLUP and accurate Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’s) this flock has progressed, with practical interpretation of the data, to be one of the leading flocks in the UK.”
Hans pays attention to EBVs with an accuracy of over 75 per cent, only using an animal a lot when they have over 90 per cent accuracy. Females selected for the flock are in the top 5 per cent of the breed and rams are in the top 1 per cent.
Hans has been a keen supporter of CT scanning since its inception, assisting early start up of the unit providing 50 Suffolk lambs per year whilst they calibrated the equipment.
“One year, eight of these lambs had an extra vertebra (2 extra chops), but regrettably this is no longer measured.
“I use CT scan results to help with my final selection of males for use in our flock.”
Producing animals fit for breeding
Hans pays a lot of attention to sound physical structure and ensures they are all very good examples of the breed.
“Suffolk’s must have tight skins, jet black silky hair with no wool on the head or below the hocks. This is essential as some of our main customers are farmers who breed Suffolk cross females for future breeding stock. Current Society show fashion does not produce the type required by these breeders,” he confirmed.
Many years of lambing early and selling ram lambs at Kelso has now been replaced by lambing in March. Hans produces shearling rams sold at an on-farm sale on the last Friday in August each year. Rams are turned out naturally, completely undressed and fed only on green food in the summer before their sale.
Having recorded lamb behaviour for the first week of life for a number of years, Hans selects animals which are born easily and are extremely active with excellent survival rates.
Current stock rams used in the Hans flock include; Sandyknowe Ettrick 07-1, purchased at Kelso for the record shearling price of £3,000, Sandyknowe Ettrick 11-2, Hans Prime Performer, Hans Perfection and last seasons top lamb with exceptional EBV’s joined the team, Hans Fokker 95 (T79:13:095).
“Selecting males with smaller heads, lighter shoulders, exceptional growth rates and muscling ability with a positive rating for fat has led to very sound, high index offspring, which are all at the top end of genetic evaluation,” Hans stated.
“Their cross-bred offspring grow very quickly and are ready for slaughter at least two weeks before the offspring of average Suffolk rams.”
“Female offspring from our rams are excellent flock replacements, with Suffolk cross Mule females regularly out-performing their dams, lambing down 5-10 per cent above our mule flock average,” he said.
All rams from Hans’ flock are sold directly from the farm, with many loyal, repeat customers established over the years. One producer, based in Devon, purchases a ram in the top one per cent every other year for his commercial flock of 800 ewes and 20 pure Suffolks.
“Last July I received a phone call to inform me that he had just sold the last of that season’s late-February born lambs, all sold off grass with no creep feed, he had averaged £98 per head killing out at 19-20kg,” Hans confirmed.
“This producer only buys top one per cent rams so his entire Suffolk flock is in that category and he does not need to go to the trouble of recording them himself.”
My focus for the future is to have all purebreds on the farm in the top one per cent of the breed, as already achieved with my Texel flock. In time more crossbred rams will become available for sale including Beltex x Suffolks and Charollais x Beltex/Suffolks as a response to demand for crossbred rams which is starting to increase.
“Success with crossbred rams is evident in our own commercial flock with a significant number of single lambs selling directly from their mothers at weaning with exceptionally good grades, and others selling well as stores,” he concludes.
Commenting on the win, Signet Breeding Services Manager Sam Boon said: “Rates of genetic improvement in Signet recorded flocks are at an all-time high. The difference between the best high EBV breeding stock and average animals is increasing year on year.
“This means commercial producers have more to gain when investing in rams with superior genetics. Pedigree breeders can capitalise on these differences too and this is exactly what Hans has done. The improvement in the genetic merit of his flock is clear and he is to be congratulated on his achievement.”