When John Yeomans returned home to farm near Newton, Powys in 1986, the family’s Beulah flock were lambing at 90% to produce carcases in the region of 13kg. Fast-forward 29 years and with a combination of improved breeding, management and help from his wife Sarah the picture is altogether a different one. The Yeomans Beulah flock now scans between 150-160% and carcases are hitting the optimal 19-21kg range.
The Beulah breed suits the farm well; the hardy, milky sheep with their phenomenal maternal instinct are perfectly suited to 290 acres of upland grazing. The ease of lambing that comes with breed also benefits the Yeomans’ system.
“We probably assisted about half a dozen ewes last year, with 480 ewes and 145 ewe lambs that makes life much easier!” said John.
The beef cattle and sheep on the farm have always had their performance carefully monitored, with a simple card system being used in the early days. The movement to full performance recording of the 480 ewes and followers with Signet Breeding Services has taken much of the sorting and analysis of information out of John and Sarah’s hands. All lambs are weighed at 8 weeks and 21 weeks, as well as having their backfat and muscle depths assessed by ultrasound scanning.
Performance recording has lead to considerable genetic gain in the flock, with the average genetic potential for weight at 21 weeks having increased almost 1 kg in the last decade. The system also allows the cream of the flock to rise to the top, for example a 2014 ram lamb bred by John and Sarah indexed in the top 5 per cent of the breed with outstanding genetic potential for growth and eye muscle depth. Rams are kept entire and some are sold for breeding, which adds to the value of the flock and makes their investment in recording financially worthwhile.
Although undoubtedly successful, this improvement in the genetics for carcase output from the sheep (via growth and muscle traits) does tend to lead to increased mature size in the ewes.
“We have bred a sheep that is a good mother, that produces a good carcase and also sells well for breeding but, we must ensure that we contain the size of the ewe. This is to ensure it is still commercial, ultimately what we produce has to make us money,” said John.
In order to avoid this issue, John and Sarah have started recording the weights of their shearling ewes pre-tupping, in order to use Signet’s Shearling Ewe Weight EBV in their breeding decisions. This will ultimately allow the identification of “curvebender” breeding lines – superior genetics for early growth but where mature size is around the breed average.
The success of this Beulah flock isn’t just attributable to genetic evaluation, John and Sarah have fine-tuned their system to optimise performance. An example of this focus on efficiency and productivity is that ewes are shorn during the winter to get 20% more animals into housing, and the entire flock is body condition scored after scanning to ensure feeding is appropriate. Record keeping at Llwyn Y Brain farm is impeccable – from birth to vaccinations and medicines, there isn’t anywhere to hide for animals not paying their way. John and Sarah are fantastic examples of how performance recording can be used as a tool in the management of a flock, and how it can contribute to real progress.