The McGowan family, based up in Blairgowrie in Perthshire, performance record both their Incheoch Lleyn and Texel flocks and as well as their herds of Luing, Simmental and Angus Cattle. Neil McGowan made the decision to record their cattle due to the large genetic improvements that they have seen within their 1100 ewe sheep enterprise. Their Texel flock is now within the Top 5% of the breed.
The McGowans started breeding Luings after buying Dirnanean farm in the 1970’s, where the herd had already been established. Finlay and Judy McGowan had not previously planned on breeding Luing cattle however after their first calving season on the new farm, the cows had earned their right to stay and have not looked back since.
The Dirnanean herd only began recording a few years ago and are the first herd to take advantage of performance recording within the Luing breed. Neil believes that “both the Luing cattle and the Lleyn sheep have similar breeding objectives. Both are thrifty animals, with excellent maternal instinct that are able to be productive within an upland environment”. His Lleyn sheep index has vastly improved within a relatively short time, with it increasing by 70% since 2010. A new index and multiple traits are now available to the breed including, traits such as lamb survival, Age at First Lambing, Longevity and Lambing Interval. These are highly appropriate for the breed and should help them progress further.
Within the sheep enterprise, Neil has found that using performance figures has helped immensely. “It has allowed the flock to become more even, with all the ewes being kept in the flock due to their proven level of performance. This allows me to make informed breeding decisions, balancing out figures and avoiding extremes”. Performance recording has also given the McGowans confidence in using home bred rams as they can see the potential that they will have on the flock.
Neil hopes the same advantages can be made within his Luing herd. EBVs will be used to determine female replacements. Currently the Luing heifers are put to the Angus bull, their second calving puts them to the Simmental bull and for their third calving the best Luing cows within the herd are to the Luing bull. This mating plan helps with the management of the herd and meet beef market requirements each year. The performance figures allow Neil to make informed choices, identifying high performance cow families and sires that will take the herd forward. Neil wants genetically balanced cows that are not too extreme in any trait. With cows being culled from the herd that are deemed too extreme. Looking forward the introduction of a cow mature weight EBV will become greatly important for the breed in helping producer’s select more efficient breeding stock.
The benefits of performance recording can be seen within the herd. Graph 1 shows the relationship between the Bull 200 Day EBV and their progeny adjusted 200 day weights. Those points circled on the graph are from two sires used in 2015 and 2016. It shows that Lochbroom Prince (green circles) has an EBV of 14 and Bull X (orange circles) has an EBV of -21. The average progeny weights of these two sires differ by around 40kg in both years, with Lochbroom Prince achieving the higher weights. This shows that the use of EBVs are a reliable way of consistently improving the genetics within herds.
Graph 1: Graph displaying relationship between Bull 200 Day Weight EBV and 200 Day Progeny Weights in the Dirnanean herd.
The McGowans sell their Luing Bulls at the Annual Premier Sale in Castle Douglas at the start of February. They also host their own annual on farm ram sale – The Working Genes Sale, which is on Thursday 7th of September this year, where they sell their Lleyn and Texel Rams. It is highly genetically orientated with performance figures taking pride of place. Due to the large turnout of buyers each year, it shows the demand for rams with figures within the commercial industry.
The McGowans recently held an open day for Luing breeders at their farm. Ailish and Sam were in attendance to promote the benefits of performance recording. There was an excellent turnout with around 50 breeders from around the country in attendance, many of whom were very interested in the service.
Looking forward, Neil believes the Luing breed has a big place within the UK beef industry. He believes “that there is massive scope for Luing bulls to be used within commercial enterprises due to the hardiness and maternal abilities that they can bring. Hopefully more breeders will join in with the recording service which will allow the breed to progress”