New breeding evaluations boost genetics merit of hill sheep

The Welsh Hill Sheep Breeding Index aims to help identify animals that thrive in the hill environment
The Welsh Hill Sheep Breeding Index aims to help identify animals that thrive in the hill environment

Major changes to the way farmers evaluate the genetic merit of hill sheep are set to make the selection of hill rams easier and more profitable.

The Hill Ram Scheme brings the latest technology to upland flocks in Wales, with the aim of strengthening the sector through long-term genetic improvement.

In collaboration with the Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales) scheme, sheep geneticist Dr Janet Roden has developed a new Welsh Hill Sheep Breeding Index.

This aims to help identify animals that thrive in the hill environment and optimise the efficiency and economic performance of hill sheep.



The index looks at the need to increase lamb growth rates, carcase weight and conformation, while enhancing the maternal characteristics of the ewe and her ability to successfully rear lambs on the hill.

Further research is planned to look at traits linked to lamb survival and ewe longevity.



As part of the Hill Ram Scheme, Signet Breeding Services is about to relaunch its performance recording services for hill sheep producers.

Samuel Boon, who has been leading on the work on behalf of AHDB Signet, said a key change was a new approach to the assessment of muscle and fat depth measurements using ultrasound scanning.

"The evaluation of these important carcase traits will now be done on a liveweight adjusted basis to give them a greater commercial focus – as well as enabling ram breeders to enhance the carcase attributes of their hill sheep without increasing ewe mature size.

"The new analysis will be delivered on a monthly basis, meaning breeders and buyers always have the latest information at their fingertips – which in many cases will mean via laptops and smartphones through Signet’s new website”

Heather McCalman, HCC Programme Coordinator said performance recording schemes were important in helping commercial farmers select genetically superior rams for their enterprise.

"But performance recorded rams are vital in hill sheep breeding programmes where many of the economically important traits are expressed by a ram’s daughters and when buying a ram, are impossible to assess ‘by eye’.

“Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) help reduce the risk of buying poorly-performing rams and help producers to match the rams with the right genetics to their flock requirements,” she said.



The new index can be found online and will be the topic of discussion in the next webinar which will be held on Tuesday 1 September on HCC’s Facebook at 19:30.