Terminal or maternal?

David Fulton, Knockloughrim, with his in-lamb Belclare X ewes which scanned at 190% and have been lambing since mid-January
David Fulton, Knockloughrim, with his in-lamb Belclare X ewes which scanned at 190% and have been lambing since mid-January

David Fulton farms in partnership with his father on the edge of Knockloughrim just outside Magherafelt where they manage a 200 sow birth to bacon unit, a beef finishing enterprise and a flock of approximately 300 ewes, writes Stephen Flanagan, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), Beef and Sheep Development Adviser, Mallusk.

David is very keen on using the best genetics to help improve the profitability of his farm enterprises. This is most evident within his pig enterprise, where over the last five years average pigs weaned per litter has increased from 11 to 14 per sow. As a result, profitability of the enterprise has improved significantly. David has been using artificial insemination and selecting sires which have desirable traits. He has focused on using maternal traits to breed replacement females, for example number of piglets alive at day five, weaning weights and milk yield of females. Selecting sires with good terminal traits are used when the focus is to produce quality finished pigs.

Stephen Flanagan, Beef & Sheep Development Adviser, CAFRE discussing David Fulton's, Knockloughrim, investment in purpose built lambing pens with his Business Development Group

Stephen Flanagan, Beef & Sheep Development Adviser, CAFRE discussing David Fulton's, Knockloughrim, investment in purpose built lambing pens with his Business Development Group

David stressed: “There are two very distinct breeding lines, one maternal and one terminal and at no point do they ever cross over,” It is this point which he is trying to replicate in the sheep flock.

With this in mind and drawing on lessons learnt from the pig enterprise, David has started to introduce distinctly maternal traits into his sheep flock. He is using a maternal Belclare ram to breed replacements and a terminal Meatlinc sire to produce fat lambs. His benchmarking figures last year showed that the ewes weaned 140% which is just below average. Although genetic gain is slower in sheep than in sows, David is hoping this weaning percentage will increase to 170% within the next three to four years.

For years many flock owners have focused on the ram breeding lambs for carcase quality and meat yield. They have lost sight of the biggest driver of flock profitability which is lamb numbers sold. Maternal traits have the greatest influence on this.

At the recent NSA AGM, Dr Tim Keady of Teagasc, highlighted : “Terminal sire breeding was flagged as the least important factor for profitability, even though it is probably the area that sheep farmers like to talk about most.”

Tim, also said that the predominance of ewes with terminal genetics (meat production) was influencing low weaning rates on Irish farms and questioned why more maternal breeds are not being used to improve the number of lambs produced per ewe.

David is an active participant of his local Sheep Business Development Group (BDG), which is now into its third year and the experience and knowledge that he brings to the discussion group is invaluable to other members. He is a firm believer in using recorded data along with Cafre benchmarking to help make the correct management decisions on farm. Measure to manage is very much his motto!