Decision time looming on ram selection for commercial buyers

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The sales season for commercial rams is now upon us and commercial breeders need to decide whether to stay with the breed of rams they are currently using or try a new approach.

For lamb producers, the income from their businesses is the major issue and how to increase margin and reduce labour, feed and vet and med costs.

Additionally, this year has seen a major benefit for early lambing achieving premium prices as the supply of New Zealand lamb has fallen. Additionally, getting the majority of lambs away to market before the drought has had a great benefit to grass availability by quickly reducing stocking rates on drought challenged fields.

With global warming the type of weather we have seen this year could become a more consistent pattern.

The processors have reported receiving large volumes of under finished lambs at their plants and this is resulting in reduced payments to producers. In this environment, it becomes more essential to select rams that can deliver fast, easy finishing lambs from grass-only systems to maximise lamb returns.

The Hampshire Down may have been out of fashion with some producers but is now finding an increased following as it answers many of the issues raised in modern farming and particularly this difficult season.

The breed was originally evolved on the dry poor South Down grasslands in Southern England and was bred to produce quick finishing lambs on poor pasture before crops were resown in early spring. The breed was so successful at doing this it was exported all over the world and particular to South America where today it is established as the most important breed for lamb production.

Over the last 30 years the breed in the UK and Ireland has evolved substantially mainly due to extensive Signet recording of flocks. This has led to much leaner and longer carcases while still retaining enough fat cover to finish easily up to the 21kg processor maximum payment weights. The breed crosses well on most commercial ewes. Additionally, lambs have become even faster to finish with many producers starting to sell finished lamb off grass from 10/12 weeks old. See the genetic trend graphs which show the measured strong improvements in growth rate and muscling.

The breed is the most heavily recorded of all the UK pedigree breeds and across flock records from Signet has shown substantial progress over the last 18 years. The result is much better returns for the commercial producer especially getting lambs to market quickly to take advantage of the earlier prices.

The annual Hampshire Down premier sale sponsored by Danske Bank, will be held at Ballymena mart on Monday, 6th August at 7 pm sharp with 40 sheep on offer.

For a catalogue or more information please see www.hampshiredown.org.uk or contact Vicky McFadden on 07897803422.