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Designing a breeding programme for your flock

Every flock no matter how big or small should have a clearly defined breeding programme. The programme should identify the type of ewes that you wish to have in your flock and the type of lambs that you wish to produce. Michael Gottstein Teagasc Head of Sheep, sums up the main points to consider

Too often flocks have a mishmash of breeds with no clear plan or direction.

Decide on ewe type

First question is, what is the type of ewe that we want to have in the flock? 

For a hill flock it may be a hardy ewe capable of living on the hill for 9 or 10 months of the year. Whereas for a lowland flock it may be a crossbred ewe capable of having and rearing two lambs annually. The easy job is identifying the type of attributes of the ewes we want to have. The bigger challenge will be figuring out how we are going to breed that type of ewe.

Select the best ram to breed replacements

Once we have identified the breed or breed mix that we feel is best going to deliver the type of ewe which we want to breed, then our next step is to identify the best possible rams that will breed those females. From a lowland sheep perspective this will involve looking at indices for the various traits.

Sheep Ireland have a ram search on their website (www.sheep.ie).

Using this will enable you to identify rams that have superior indices for not just the terminal and replacement indices but also the sub indices which include things such as; barrenness, ewe mature weight, number of lambs born to name but a few.

It is important to remember that on average half of the lambs born to any ram will be male. In reality probably 70% of the lamb crop from a ram purchased to breed replacements will not be used for breeding and will be marketed as prime lamb. Consequently it is important to also keep in mind the terminal traits. So when selecting a ram on replacement traits don’t ignore the terminal traits.  

Purchasing a ram

When looking for rams to purchase it is a good idea to go shopping early. Waiting until most of the sales are over means that the pool of rams to choose from is much smaller and the better rams have already been sold. A ram purchased for the producing of breeding females will have an influence on the flock for 10 to 15 years, long after the ram himself is gone.

Breeding enough replacements

The next step is to ensure that enough replacements are produced. The number of ewes that must be mated with a ram to produce replacements will depend on the weaning rate of the flock and the number of replacements that needs to be retained. The table below shows the percentage of the flock that needs to be mated to a replacement producing ram to generate 24% replacements annually.

Keep extra replacements each year so that poorly developed animals can be culled. It is important from a flock age structure to have a consistent replacement rate each year.

The Teagasc Sheep Specialists  and advisors issue an article on a topic of interest to sheep farmers on Tuesdays here on Teagasc Daily.  Find more on Teagasc Sheep here