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5-star ewes deliver for productivity and profitability

A display of sheep made a welcome return to the Teagasc exhibit at this year’s National Ploughing Championships in Ratheniska, Co. Laois.

The ‘ram task’ under the Sheep Improvement Scheme – which requires participating farmers to purchase a genotyped four or five-star ram over the scheme’s duration – has piqued the interest among sheep producers of the benefits of using highly rated Terminal or Replacement Index rams.

Teagasc experts were present to discuss the benefits of both indexes, highlighting what they encompass and how they should be used at farm level. The Replacement Index - with a relative emphasis of 60% for maternal traits; 24% for lambing traits; 12% for growth traits; 3% for carcass traits; and 1% for health traits - should be used to select sires to breed the next generation of replacements from within your flock.

On the other hand, for farmers seeking to produce factory or butcher type lambs, the Terminal Index should be examined when selecting suitable tups. 44% of this index is attributed to growth traits, a further 42% is placed towards lambing, while the remainder consists of carcass traits (12%) and health (2%).

In the below video, Michael Gottstein, Head of Sheep Knowledge Transfer Programme in Teagasc, is joined by Fiona McGovern, Research Officer in the Teagasc Animal & Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Mellows Campus, Athenry, to discuss how the indexes were validated in the INZAC Flock in Teagasc Athenry and the benefits using 5-star rams can bring to sheep producers.

Consisting of 180 ewes, the INZAC flock was established to investigate the maternal performance of animals classed in their replacement genetic index. It aimed to quantify animal performance, methane output, carcass and meat eating quality.

Three categories of ewes are involved in the study - elite New Zealand genetics, elite Irish genetics and low Irish genetics – with 30 Suffolk and 30 Texel ewes assigned to each treatment group.

Table 1: Results from the INZAC study at Teagasc Athenry

 Elite New Zealand geneticsElite Irish geneticsLow Irish genetics
Pregnancy scan rate 1.79 1.62 1.54
Birth weight (kg) 5.53 5.42 5.26
Six-week weight (kg) 18.5 18.0 17.8
Weaning weight (kg) 33.3 33.7 30.7

Results from the INZAC study (table 1) show that superior scanning rates, birth weights, six-week weights and weaning weights were achieved from ewes of elite New Zealand genetics, when compared to both the Elite Irish and Low Irish groups. In addition, ewes of Elite Irish genetics had higher scan rates, heavier lambs at birth, heavier lambs at six weeks of age and weaned a lamb that was 3kg heavier that the low Irish genetics ewes – thus showing that selecting ewes on the basis of replacement genetic index brings benefits to a flock’s productivity and profitability.

Teagasc at the Ploughing

Over the course of the National Ploughing Championships, some of the key highlights have been featured on Teagasc Daily. Check these out below:

Teagasc at the National Ploughing Championships

Factors influencing contaminant losses to water

New and exciting opportunities for forestry creation on farms

Selecting the appropriate actions to reduce gaseous emissions on tillage farms

Food chemistry at the National Ploughing Championships

Using digital tools to support Teagasc advisory services

Eddy’s role in monitoring soil carbon

Using genetics to take the guesswork out of selecting animals for beef