Which breed is the best? To me it’s a futile discussion because what ‘the best’ means cannot be defined, as the old saying goes: ‘The flesh of one man is the poison of another’.
When choosing a breed, it’s important to base your decisions on objective information. There is so much data available showing the benefits of improved litter size in terms of product performance and profitability in sheep farming, but less than one in five ewes used in lowland flocks in the country fall into the productive breed category.
At UCD Lyons Farm we have been comparing the three most commonly used productive breed types in Ireland since 2017: the mule, the Belclare cross and the Lleyn cross.
Jonathan Higgins has had four full years of production with his breed comparison herd and some preliminary trends are emerging.
We found the Lleyn cross genetics to be a bit more difficult to source (via the normal retail or farm-to-farm sales routes), particularly as ewe lambs suitable for breeding at 7-8 months of age.
There were no similar problems with the Mule or Belclare X genetics. This is a key reason why we will be using the Mule and Belclare ewes as the basis for the next phase as we move from purchasing replacement stock to breeding our own.
With productive genetics, there are more triplets to deal with, which some growers don’t want. At Lyons, Stephen Lott and Ger Egan have put a lot of time into developing our triplet management system and are very happy with the ewe’s rearing of triplet lambs.
More details of the trial will be released over time, but regardless of what the data say, there still won’t be a single productive breed that’s best for everyone.
Each farmer will select the breed that they feel best fits their system and prospects – and data will be just one of the factors driving that decision.
In our research on sheep production in UCD, we see our role as providing information so people can make decisions. We are not advocating one system over another, but people can see what management decisions we are making in our own herd and we try to communicate the reasons.
This was evident in our work on multispecies turfs, which now form part of the pasture management for our non-experimental sheep pasture platform.
Over the next month we will implement grazing rotation and switch the ewes to forage crops.
The remaining lambs are slaughtered and most importantly the scanner is booked to assess our performance this year and set our strategy for next year.
Prof. Tommy Boland is Lecturer in Sheep Farming at Lyons Farm, UCD; @palaceb; email@example.com
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/sheep/advice/tommy-boland-use-the-data-out-there-to-help-choose-the-best-breed-for-your-system-42214538.html Tommy Boland: Use the data available to choose the best breed for your system