With the ram sale season underway, the hill sheep sector has seen an increase in the number of performance-recorded hill rams being sold in Wales, demonstrating an increasing commitment by farmers to using technology and best practice to develop productive flocks.
This increase comes as a result of the Hill Ram Scheme, a project that aims to bring the latest sheep genetic technology to upland flocks in Wales. An increase of 53% in the number of performance-recorded hill rams sold in 2020 compared to 2019 was seen as hill flocks in Wales reap the benefits of performance-recorded rams. As increased numbers of flocks are now involved in the Scheme it is likely that this growth will continue into 2021.
The Hill Ram Scheme, led by Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), is one strand of the Red Meat Development Programme – a 5-year Welsh Government and European Union-funded initiative aiming to enhance the red meat sector in Wales.
The farmers involved in the Scheme are using DNA technology to performance-record their flocks in order to improve the flock genetics for production traits without making fundamental changes to their system.
Since the Scheme launched in 2018, a total of 42,000 DNA samples have been analysed from hill flocks across Wales. There are now 54 flocks performance recording 7 different hill breed types across Wales.
Dr. Heather McCalman, who works on the Hill Ram Scheme, explains, “As technology, and our understanding of sheep genetics has developed and evolved it is possible to use genetic information to improve hill flock performance that builds on the work of farming generations to develop hardy stock that can survive in their environment.”
Performance recording and using Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) in a bespoke Welsh hill selection index enables a robust and faster rate of genetic improvement and is a proven, cost-effective and long-term way of improving animal production efficiency.
Dr. McCalman adds, “The positive increase has shown that more and more sheep farmers are taking an interest in the production genetics of their flocks, and the increase in the number of performance-recorded rams sold in 2020 demonstrates this. It also shows that there is an increasing demand for performance-recorded stock with known genetic merit.
“HCC has developed a booklet to support farmers who wish to purchase performance-recorded rams or those breeders who wish to retain breeding stock in their flocks. The booklet provides an overview of EBVs and indexes to give an understanding of how to best use them alongside the important functional traits. It demonstrates the benefits of selecting rams by using EBVs on commercial farms and provides a guide on setting breeding goals to use when selecting rams.”
HCC’s Ram Buyer’s Guide is available to download from the website: https://meatpromotion.wales/en/industry-projects/red-meat-development-programme/rmdp-publications/hill-ram-scheme-publications
HCC’s Hill Ram Scheme is one of three 5-year projects in the Red Meat Development Programme which is funded by the Welsh Government Rural Communities – Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government.