Meatlinc breeders Clive and Jenny Richardson farm at St Mawgan, near Newquay in Cornwall.
The farm has two closed sheep flocks. One is a long-established commercial flock of 850 ewes; the other has 190 Meatlinc ewes. Meatlinc rams were used on the commercial ewes during the 1990’s, but the first purebred ewes were purchased at the end of 2001. The Richardson’s are inspired by the breed’s founding father Henry Fell. “Henry is a man before his time,” says Clive Richardson. “Much of what he talked about 20 years ago as being important for sheep production is only now being adopted today.”
Meatlinc breeders are committed to moving the breed forward through performance recording. Clive and Jenny are testament to this and always use Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) to make their breeding selections.
The top 25% of the Meatlinc ewes are mated with high index rams. A few are selected for artificial insemination with semen from reference rams from other Meatlinc flocks. The rest are turned out with the stock rams in October to mate in single sire groups to avoid inbreeding.
All lambs are weighed and ultrasound scanned each year at 21 weeks to accurately assess muscle and fat depth across the loin. The highest performing ram lambs based on raw scanning data are then taken for Computed Tomography (CT) scanning at the Meatlinc head office near York. This assesses total muscle, fat and bone yield of the live sheep. This near perfect predictor of carcase composition helps identify rams with the best genetic potential, and their semen is then made available to other Meatlinc breeders.
When choosing home-bred replacements, Clive looks for high genetic merit animals that are physically correct with good feet and teeth. He operates a heavy culling strategy and high replacement rate.
“The records highlight the consistently good mothers which rear the top lambs year after year,” explains Clive. “These ewes are retained in the flock, and their daughters are targeted to join the replacement team.
“They probably won’t look the best, but they are the hardest workers and when you look at their figures they stand out.”
The Richardsons sell 70-80 rams each year to commercial producers. Marketing is mainly by recommendation, and by taking stands at The Royal Cornwall Show and Southwest Sheep, where they see a lot of their regular customers. The rams are reared commercially and are 95% grass-fed.
“Commercial producers want high index rams that have not been pushed,” says Clive. “In my experience, they would rather spend money on a ram that will do a good job for them, than a fancy-looking one that melts away as soon as he sees the ewes.
“The profit driver for our customers is getting lambs away and achieving 20kg deadweight in 12-16 weeks. Some do a bit of research first on the Meatlinc website before seeing the animals; some select on looks first when they get here. Either way, EBVs guide them in the final decision about which rams will suit their system and commercial objectives best.
Shane Conway – Signet