Neil McGowan  -  Managing Large Scale Breeding Programs - Beef and Sheep

John Oldacre Foundation

Incheoch is a family farm in upland Perthshire – home to a beef breeding herd, ewe flock, a handful of chickens, some great wildlife and 3 generations of the McGowan family.  Our goal is to be a source of ‘functional, efficient and robust breeding stock’.

Someone once told me that every farm has an unfair advantage, and to have success, you have to find it and exploit it.  Ours is an unreasonable interest in cow and ewe families, and a passion for breeding bulls and rams that will have a positive influence on future generations.

Our production line consists of 220 cows and 1100 ewes, all pedigree registered and mostly performance recorded.  Our product is 20 bulls and 100 rams, along with some breeding females and finished stock.  Rams are sold at our ‘Working Genes’ on-farm auction sale, which I would like to develop to include bulls.  The breeds we are working with are Texel and Lleyn (a thrifty Welsh native), and Simmental and Luing (an equally thrifty Scottish native and derivative of the Shorthorn and Highland).

Our kids Tally (10) and Angus (9) will need to further develop their hobby of ‘sheep chasing’, helping my wife Debbie when I am travelling. I will be equally indebted to the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland for sponsoring my project.

I want to find out how performance recorded flocks of 20,000 ewes are practically managed and how herd-sizes are being enlarged through the use of co-operative breeders; how predicted performance levels from breeding programs are being commercially authenticated and ultimately, how the genetics are being marketed.   I hope to find the answers in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the US.

I am particularly interested to see in practice the selection of sheep for resistance to infections (worms and footrot), and in cattle, feed efficiency.  I believe that if sheep can be managed with less labour, and cattle produced with less feed, both sectors will have an even brighter future.