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The Ventonglidder flock, owned by Jean and Eddie Burke of Truro, Cornwall has been recognised by AHDB Beef and Lamb as the Most Improved Flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep in England for 2015.

The award is presented by the AHDB Beef and Lamb Better Returns Programme (BRP) to the recorded flock that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of ten UK breeds.

Jean and Eddie Burke have lived and farmed at Ventonglidder since 1977, initially rearing beef cattle and finishing store lambs. Their 44 acre grassland farm is managed according to an Entry Level Stewardship agreement.

In 2004 they decided to focus on pedigree breeding and established their Ventonglidder Flock of Wiltshire Horn sheep. Foundation stock included rams from the Kislingbury, Cynfarwy and Creedy flocks. Female lines were sourced from the Boxes, Grafton and Slapton flocks. They received early recognition winning the Flock Competition in 2006 for the Wiltshire Horn Sheep Society’s New Members’ Class (southern area).

w horn rams on castle moor

 Low Maintenance and Low Inputs

Today the demand for wool is low and its production is uneconomic; the Wiltshire Horn has a short fleece that naturally sheds taking away the need to shear. At Ventonglidder there is a low incidence of lameness, they think, due to the hard, dark hoof horn. Ewes have large frames and are good, milky mothers which lamb easily.

They’re an ideal crossing breed, rams used as terminal sires produce lambs which are lively at birth and finish quickly off grass. Wiltshire Horn ewes are increasingly used in many commercial flocks where, with careful selective breeding, they are able to produce wool shedding replacements.

 Flock Management Aided by Performance Data

Rams are put in with ewes in October for March lambing. Using the inbreeding coefficient provided by Signet, they use five rams in single sire mating groups. The majority lamb to first cycle providing a uniform group of lambs for easy management.

One of their foundation rams, Cynfarwy Caradog, has had particular success and his genetics still exist in the flock today. Rams sourced more recently through the breed society sales include Croydebay Edward, and Pertwood Leo. Both have been reliable performers, have introduced new blood and are working toward improved flock linkages.

In 2013 homebred Ventonglidder Hector, a descendant from the Cynfarwy line, was chosen by the recording group as the link ram, the previous year it had been Tim Whites Deverill Error, indirectly linked to the Pertwood flock, and Leo. Using reference rams within the group has improved overall index and flock linkages between members of the group, but there is a need to introduce other lines at times to widen the genepool.

“We find the inbreeding coefficient service provided by Signet very helpful in developing our mating structure for the flock each year,” said Jean.

 Weaned in July, lamb selections are made by looking at the breed type characteristics alongside performance data. The farm is not heavily stocked and the Wiltshire is a slow maturing breed which allows Jean and Eddie time to watch and wait as lambs develop.

Around ten ram lambs are kept to sell as breeding males, the majority of them are sold as shearlings. Most ewe lambs are sold for breeding with approximately 15 of the higher index lambs retained as replacements for the Ventonglidder flock.

“Everything sold or kept for breeding must be true to breed type and is registered,” said Jean.

 Using Performance Recording to Develop the Breed

The Ventonglidder flock of 60 breeding ewes has recorded with Signet Breeding Services since 2007 as part of a project, led by Jean and part funded by the South West Rural Enterprise Gateway, to increase the number of performance recorded Wiltshire Horn flocks. The Signet Breeding Services dataset currently includes ten Wiltshire Horn flocks.

 Signet works closely with Wiltshire Horn breeders to investigate the genetics associated with shedding, to determine whether high scoring animals produce increased numbers of shedding progeny in pure and cross breeding programmes.

 “It is great that the Wiltshire Horn Sheep Society is keen to encourage more flocks to start recording and continue to offer some financial start-up support,” Jean comments.

“Incorporating the use of ultrasound scanning at Ventonglidder provides us with hard data which will improve reliability.

“Our indices continue to climb and carcase quality has definitely improved, based on feedback from the abattoir, with surplus lambs hitting target specifications of R or U 3L,” she concludes.

Marketing Breeding Stock and Meat from the Flock

Top quality pedigree breeding stock is usually available, including proven and shearling rams, proven and shearling ewes and ewe lambs. Marketing of the Ventonglidder breeding stock or sales of lamb and mutton is facilitated through their own website [email protected]

“We sell all over the country to both commercial producers and pedigree breeders,” Jean said.

“Ventonglidder stock is in high demand with improved sales of rams in particular.

“We regularly advertise on the breed society website, and provides a service for potential buyers researching ram availability, who then visit us to make their final selections.”

 Commenting on the win, Signet Breeding Services Manager Sam Boon said: “Rates of genetic improvement in Signet recorded flocks are at an all-time high. The difference between the best high EBV breeding stock and average animals is increasing year on year.

“This means commercial producers have more to gain when investing in rams with superior genetics. Pedigree breeders can capitalise on these differences too and this is exactly what Jean and Eddie have done. The improvement in the genetic merit of their flock is clear and they are to be congratulated on this achievement.”