Charollais breeders Tom and Brian Greenfield farm at Sibson, near Nuneaton in Warwickshire.
There are three flocks on the farm – as well as the 60 pedigree Charollais sheep there is a flock of 60 Norbryds and a commercial flock of 250 ewes. The move to pedigree Charollais happened gradually, after Tom used a Charollais ram on his commercial flock in the early 1990’s. He was so pleased with the results he bought four in-lamb pedigree Charollais ewes – initially regarding them as a hobby. However he soon decided to focus on the breed, producing his own rams and selling those not kept. He particularly likes the growth rates and muscling ability of the lambs, and how easily the ewes give birth.
The flock has built up over the past 20 years or so, mainly by keeping female replacements – but also by buying in some high quality ewes. Tom has worked closely with his friend Charles Sercombe, owner of the Dalby Flock, and there is quite a bit of ‘Dalby’ blood in Tom’s ewes.
The Wellsborough flock has been performance recorded for ten years. All lambs are ultrasound scanned each year at approximately 21 weeks of age to accurately assess their muscle and fat depth. Tom feels he learnt a lot about fat to muscle ratios from doing this – realising that often what you see looking at the live animal is not always what you get when the animal is on the hook. Poor muscle depth can sometimes be masked by higher levels of fat. Muscle and Fat Depth EBVs are therefore valuable tools that can be used to help predict carcase quality.
“I don’t think you should make breeding selections using performance figures alone,” says Tom. “But having the figures behind an animal gives you much greater confidence of what it is capable of achieving.”
Tom starts pinpointing the ram lambs he wants to keep for breeding as they approach 40kg in weight. He selects on conformation and breed type first, then backs this up by looking at their Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for key commercial traits such as growth rates. Those not up to the mark are sold through the local market.
Decisions on which ewe lambs to keep are left until the autumn. Only those with an index in the top 50% of the breed are retained. Ewes that gave birth to twins and triplets are favoured over those that had singles to maintain prolificacy within the flock. Maternal ability and milkiness are two areas Tom is keen to improve.
When buying a new stock ram or selecting sires for AI, Tom looks for EBVs that suit the individual ewes. He acknowledges that not every ram can do every job, so he picks out particular traits that will improve the Wellsborough flock as a whole. Recently he has started selecting for animals with a slightly positive Fat Depth EBV, as he felt some of the sheep were becoming too lean.
“Golden Promise, which we part-owned with Charles Sercombe, was a very stylish ram with good figures behind him,” says Tom. “He was in the top 10% for the breed index, and produced five crops of lambs here and certainly made a difference.
“Another high index ram, Dalby Kracked It, used for the past two years also seems to be leaving his stamp on his progeny. I am excited to see how he influences the flock in the coming years.”
Rams are sold to commercial farmers with flocks of between 100 and 800 ewes. These are mostly marketed through word of mouth, with some useful enquiries coming through the AHDB Beef and Lamb, SIGNET and BASCO websites.
Occasionally Tom takes stock to shows and sales, recognising the importance of these events as a promotional platform. However time is often a limiting factor, especially with the dairy herd to look after as well as the sheep.
Tom feels that potential customers are becoming more aware and interested in animals with figures behind them, with half of those enquiring last year asking him to take them through the data. He finds them a useful tool for guiding customers towards stock that will do a good job for their particular farming situation.
Shane Conway – Signet