There are few hills in Suffolk, but there are some harsh environments and this is why the Stanford Beulah flock was established. The Stanford battle area is a mixture of grassland and heath growing on sandy soil and sheep have to work hard to adapt and survive there.
This does not however, preclude genetic improvement and Ian and Rose Sellar’s desire to produce homebred rams for the large commercial ewe flock, encourages them to performance record.
Over 20 years, the Stanford flock has focussed on enhancing the milking ability of the ewe and the carcase attributes of their progeny, whilst keeping an eye on changes in prolificacy.
Recording a large dispersed population of sheep is very difficult, but by creating a nucleus of elite animals, attention can be focussed on ram breeding. For many years the flock operated a type of family-based breeding system, using inbreeding co-efficients produced by Signet to determine how closely related different bloodlines were to avoid inbreeding, whilst optimising rates of gain.
The challenge of introducing proven Beulah genetics back into the flock was limiting progress. So in about 2008 a grading-up programme was established, running a maternal Texel ram with a large number of unrelated Beulah ewes. A couple of elite sons from the large lamb crop produced were selected and backcrossed to Beulah ewes for another two generations.
This produced a new line of high performance sires that were over 82% Beulah to use in the nucleus and latterly the main flock. Part of the Stanford flock is still pure Beulah and many pure Beulah breeding lines compete well with their hybrid contemporaries.
All Beulah records are analysed in a single across-flock analysis by Signet, although breeders recognise that comparisons between the EBVs produced in English and Welsh flocks is difficult, as linkage between the two populations is now limited.
However in recent years a couple of the better-looking East Anglian Beulah rams have sneaked over the border into Wales. Where they have been used, the progeny have been heavier and better muscled, although it is said they are unlikely to win at the Royal Welsh any time soon!
Tips for success
- Test progeny in the environment they are expected to perform
- Have a clear, long-term breeding plan where the availability of recorded genetics is limited
- Do not be afraid to do something different
Table 12: A decade of genetic improvement for the Stanford Flock