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The 2017 winner of the AHDB Beef & Lamb Better Returns Programme Improved Flock Award for the Hampshire Down sheep is the flock owned by Simon Williams, Benniworth Flock at Croxby, Market Rasen, Lincolnshire. 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.

Simon Williams moved to Hall Farm in 2010, where he has around 50 acres of permanent grass. Simon currently keeps 3 flocks; around 20 pedigree Hampshire Down ewes, 10 Pedigree Blue Texel ewes and a cross bred flock of Recipient ewes used to carry embryos and produce cross bred lambs for a local boxed lamb customers.

Simon bought his first Hampshire Down ewes in 2005 from the well-known Yarcombe and Kelsey flocks and naturally progressed from there concentrating on producing tups for the commercial farmer. Simon has always been involved working with sheep on local farms as a boy and as a student. Running alongside his career as a rural chartered surveyor, his original commercial flock had reached 150 ewes which was dispersed after foot and mouth in 2002. After a break he could not resist going back into sheep with the purchase of the first Hampshire Down ewes three years later.
Simon began recording his flock in 2011, which he says has now become an “obsession about the value of performance recording” and now bases his trait selection on increased muscle levels, as this is what the breed can enhance further. He believes that Hampshire Down
sheep have natural, superior growth rates that outperform other breeds. It is the carcass quality and other commercial attributes that need to be concentrated on especially as Hampshire Downs have come back into the running as an important Terminal Sire breed, for commercial breeders. Simon also appreciates the importance of a good skinned sheep and its significance when marketing cross bred lambs.

Simon lambs the majority of his sheep in March, with the embryo transfers lambing in a separate slightly earlier batch. The sheep are not routinely fed concentrates throughout the year, reared mostly on grass, he wants to keep his sheep in commercial conditions.

Simon takes advantage of the Computer Tomography (CT) Scanning service provided by Signet. This additional service provides a welfare friendly way to assess the total weight of muscle and fat within a carcass as well as the overall gigot muscularity. The technology gives more accurate and reliable results than those obtained through ultrasound, aiding superior genetics to be identified and assisting with the marketing of recorded flocks. Simon thinks the service is great and the results obtained are fascinating, it is something that he will definitely continue to do and is looking forward to the future traits that CT will provide – especially those influencing meat quality which the Hampshire has always had an excellent reputation for.

Simon does not show his sheep, concentrating his efforts on breeding sheep for the shearling ram market. Simon’s key customers are commercial farmers to whom he sells to privately and at Kelso Tup Sales in September. Simon’s ram customers are definitely interested in his sheep performance figures and are knowledgeable about the muscle and fat proportions in a carcase, which is important to all breeders.

Simon is delighted to have won the award this year. In recent years he believes his flock’s progress has been due to his determination to improve the sheep and his clear focus on performance recording. He has altered his culling policy halving the number of Hampshire ewes in recent years to keep only the best performing lines. He has also made informed tup choices in 2016, using Court General 73R12077 and Thorbeck Hurricane 80X14182 both of which are were the top 1% of the breed.

Looking forward Simon still has great plans to improve his flock. He wants to continue selecting for good muscled and tight skinned sheep in order to produce these ‘Top Notch’ rams and forge a sustainable market for his rams. He also believes that the careful use of embryo transfer will be another key to continued progress. Simon also aims to make stronger links with other progressive farmers that are keen to concentrate on processing the Hampshire Down’s genetic potential identified through the performance recording service provided by Signet.

If you would like to find out more, please visit Simon’s website

EBVs for Court General 73R12077

The chart shows that Court General is superior in the growth rate traits. This ram also has excellent muscle depth as he has 4.69mm more than average. With an index of 327 in 2016 this placed him in the Top 1% of the breed.