Robert Hodgkins - Using genomic selection technology to advance the development of a ovine maternal breeding line
31 year old Sheep farmer from West Sussex.
Locks Farm is a tenanted 1,400 acre farm, most of which is situated within the South Downs National Park. 90% of our grassland in permanent pasture and is the farmed under the South Downs ESA regime where no fertiliser or chemical is permitted, therefore there is very little we can do to manipulate or extend our grazing season.
Productivity of some of the swards would be considered very low – the ESA agreement stipulates an annual maximum stocking rate of 3 ewes per acre. The farm rises up to 783ft above sea level, and field contours range from flat ground at home to steep banks upon the downs.
We are large commercial family run sheep farm running 3000 plus NZ Romney ewes. The farm is a spread out unit (25 miles round trip to visit every flock) on good to mediocre grassland, land class 3-5. We operate a single breed, closed flock and take great care and interest in selecting future progeny to make shepherding as enjoyable and stress free as possible. We are one of the largest Signet recorded flocks in the country, single sire mating and recording over 1500 ewes and there progeny per year. We sell high quality, NZ Romney rams and females, this year we have sold around 110 2 tooth rams, and all of the breeding females (800+) we had for sale.
High maternal ability Merino's
Appears in Livestock
Andy and Mandy Bouffler
Today visited Andrew Bouffler and his wife Mandy, Andrew was a Nuffield Scholar in 2006 who’s project tittle was – “how to fully utilise and rapidly improve the Australian maternal ewe flock (including merinos)”He runs a large mixed farming enterprise and tries to integrate the cropping and the livestock side of the businesses.
He runs 2 very successful stud operations one growing high quality Merino’s with which he places a very high emphasis on their mothering ability – something Merinos are not always known for! As well as a White Suffolk stud usually used as a terminal sire across the Merinos.
Andrews key focus seems to be that the industry can no longer rely on high values on wool clips to make up for merinos weaknesses in other areas and has been driven to try and create a true dual purpose animal with high maternal ability to cut down on labour usage combined with higher growth rates and larger ewe sizes to promote a high meat value for the animals. He also has tried to promote polled genes to enable easier handling and a big focus on reduced body winkles to reduce the incident of fly strike, and be well based to tackle any upcoming problems with mulesing.
Another aspect I found very encouraging was Andrew’s wiliness to bring in and compare top genetics from other studs and run them in his system to see how they compared to his own progeny. I really like this idea to be able to benchmark your own flock against your peers and time and time again I see this being done in Australia there is such wiliness to benchmark your own performance, its so refreshing to see and I must admit to spending an evening or 2 seeing if I could bring in a English Romney Stud and see how he compares to our NZ ones – or even something like a Lleyn, I will have to give it some thought.
It was also good to note how integrated Andrew had managed to get his cropping and livestock businesses he was doing a crop rotation with a 6 year ley of Lucerne/Ryegrass built in to improve fertility and organic matter. He also was grazing his wheat crops just before harvest, he claims it has minimal effects on the yield but the sheep pick out all the leaves and then he runs through with the combine.
He then showed me how he establishes the Lucerne crop, he precision drills a mix of Lucerne and Wheat together, the wheat at a much lower rate than normal (typical seed rates for that area would be 60kg/ha he was seeding at 10kg/ha) the idea behind this was it takes a year for the Lucerne crop to get established and so a small crop of wheat at the same time means he maximises the fields value.
He also has a minimal approach to spraying of crops with the view that Ryegrass in the wheat seeding will benefit his grass leys, and so he doesn’t feel the need to spray them off.
Andrew is a passionate believer in recording sheep and operates a system very similar to our own when it comes to recording mothering ability lamb weights etc. He also explained to me the importance of good marketing and how difficult it is getting data in a easy to read format which people understand. He gave me an example of the first newsletter that he sent out full of graphs and data and explained the feedback he got that said no one really read it and the small number that did didn’t understand it. There does not seem to be a magic formula but he did say presenting recording data in an easy to read format is key to trying to get your message across.
More information can be found on the trigger vale website http://www.triggervalesheepstuds.com.au/
Or have a look at the video interview with Andrew (not done by me!!) http://www.blueclay.com.au/#Trigger-Vale-Sheep-Stud