Dr Aurelie Aubry is the senior sheep researcher at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI). The AFBI sheep research unit is located at two sites – Hillsborough, county Down and Loughgall, county Armagh. The flock currently consists of 300 composite ewes obtained from recent cross breeding strategies using Belclare, Lleyn, Highlander, Suffolk and Texel rams. The grazing ground at both sites consists of lowland grazing pastures.
All ewes lamb down indoors at Hillsborough under close supervision of research staff in early March. Ewes are fed pit silage ad-lib and concentrates in late-pregnancy. All ewes are EID recorded via a Shearwell psion. All lambs are tagged at birth and linked to their sire and dam with breed, sex, weight, lambing difficulty and viability also recorded at birth.
In the 2017 breeding season, sires used included both Signet and Sheep Ireland performance recorded Suffolk and Texel rams with high and low EBV for muscle (8 sire groups). On average, 37 ewes were AI’d with each sire, with a very good average conception rate of 85% to AI. Lambing percentage in March 2018 was 175%.
Shortly after lambing, all ewes and lambs are moved to grazing ground located at Loughgall and are managed in a 4-paddock rotational grazing system. All lambs are weighed fortnightly from six weeks of age and are finished off grass. The majority of lambs are sold deadweight to Dunbia where individual slaughter data are recorded. A small percentage of ewe lambs are selected and kept as breeding replacements, usually in their first autumn.