Shropshire breeder James Thompson farms at Sansaw Farms near Shrewsbury in Shropshire.
In 2007 Sansaw Farms reintroduced a breeding flock of 150 pedigree Shropshire sheep. There is a long, family tradition of keeping the native breed stretching back over 120 years, and James’s intention is to improve upon their already impressive level of lamb and wool production. He believes that carcases from Shropshire-sired lambs can meet butchers’ requirements just as well as those sired by continental terminal sires. Not only that, native breeds can finish off grass without the need for expensive supplementary feeds.
The ewes are tupped in September to lamb indoors in February. They are turned out as soon as the weather allows, and the lambs given a little creep feed. They grow quickly with lambs not retained for breeding ready for marketing at around ten to 12 weeks of age.
The Sansaw flock has been recorded for three years now and selective breeding based on Estimate Breeding Values (EBVs), is producing high quality females with proven maternal ability. As well as having a high breeding index, retained ewes also have to have correct breed type attributes.
Ewe lambs in the top 25% index are kept for breeding, and the rest of the females sold from home or through the Society sale in Shrewsbury in July.
Replacement rams are bought-in, carefully chosen to avoid line breeding. Selection is based 60% on the animal’s performance figures, and 40% on looks and breed type.
High quality ram lambs with above average EBVs are generally sold to other pedigree breeders in the UK and abroad, in countries such as Switzerland, France, Norway and Germany. Live exports of breeding stock are facilitated by the Breed Society.
“Shropshire breeders do seem to be embracing performance recording more now,” says James. “Around 70% of the breed members record their sheep, and as a result, there is more choice for new stock and bloodlines.
“It also seems that high index animals coming through the sales are achieving a premium, which encourages a positive move towards recording.”
Shane Conway – Signet