The 2017 winner of the AHDB Beef & Lamb Better Returns Programme Improved Flock Award for the Southdown sheep is the Sutherland flock owned by Amy Readhead-Higgins, House Farm, Leiston, Suffolk. This award is presented to the English Signet performance recorded flock that makes the greatest improvement in the breeding potential of the lamb crop during the previous year.
The AHDB Better Returns Programme aims to highlight the financial impact that improved breeding and better lamb selection strategies can have on commercial flock profitability.
This award seeks to reward those breeders that are using Estimated Breeding Values to enhance the performance of their flocks and assist them to promote their achievement. The impact of performance recorded stock is significant and is increasing every year because of the activities of progressive farmers.
Amy lives on her family farm in Leiston, Suffolk which has been in her family since the late 1930s. She currently manages the farm with her father Tony Readhead and her youngest brother Neill Readhead It is a 2000 acre arable farm where they farm mainly combinable crops; winter wheat, winter oilseed rape and winter barley to name a few.
Amy bought her first Southdown in 2005 as the start of a hobby. She was looking for a good looking sheep that would finish lambs quickly and efficiently whilst being manageable at the same time. She now has 30 breeding ewes that have “taken over” her life. At Sutherland Southdowns they aim to breed their own replacements however they have recently bought in some high EBV ewes. They do sell some lambs for breeding and are just starting out in selling rams, Amy is keeping the high performance sheep for her own use to improve the flock. Those lambs that are sent to slaughter are all sent directly off farm with Amy dropping them off at the local Abattoir herself.
Amy was slightly reluctant at first to begin recording as she feared it would jeopardise the appearance of her flock. However a couple of friends who recorded with Signet managed to persuade her that would not be the case and she agrees. Amy likes to concentrate on the overall index and not just individual traits, she looks for good muscled and lean sheep. Moving forward the importance of maternal traits will play a large part in selection criteria as she wants sheep that are easy lambing with good levels of milk production, as this will make life easier and can only be a positive aspect and improve the flock.
When asked about winning the award, she is delighted and believes it is from improving her sire selection. For 2016 Amy had bought in two new tups; Ridings Roly 218:142126 and East Dean Ed 165:11146 – both of which are in the top 25% of the breed. She chose these rams due to their performance scores, obtained through Signet, and this is something that she will continue to do.
Looking forward Amy aims to keep improving her flock overall, she wants to breed true Southdowns that still look great but also improve their EBVs at the same time. The ultimate aim – the perfect Southdown!