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Data Enthusiasm Drives Performance

 flock of sheep

On Farm Data Gets Results

Peregrine Aubrey’s office is a bit like an aeroplane cockpit - screens and technology everywhere. He spends hours at his desk trawling through his flock’s records, assessing individual ewe breeding indexes and planning matings. As a breeding enthusiast and self-confessed computer geek, it’s data that really floats his boat.

“It all comes back to the computer and data,” he says. “I organise all the matings on the computer. You don’t ever look at your sheep - that’s a really bad idea. The highest index Lleyn ram in the UK is in one of my fields. If you went out there, you wouldn’t be able to select him. He’s a small ram that produces big lambs at 21 weeks, so he’s efficient. That’s why he’s exciting. You shouldn’t spend too much time looking at the sheep. It’s pound notes in the bank and it can only be done on computers.”

Peregrine runs 700 Lleyn ewes and 50-60  New Zealand Suffolks, along with 300 ewe lambs at Eastergrounds Farm, Kingsbridge, Devon. Nine years ago, he began performance recording as a means of adding value to what was produced on farm and to fulfil his aim of becoming a genetics specialist. He has avoided going pedigree and focused on selecting for maternal traits, to produce breeding animals for the commercial man.

He thinks many farmers “underestimate the value” of the maternal line and believes there’s huge scope for them to improve flock performance by putting greater emphasis on females. “In the longer term, they are more valuable as you’re not putting genetics in for one year for fat lambs - the effect is cumulative,” says Peregrine, who won Sheep Farmer of the Year at the South West Farmer Awards last year. 

He believes the Lleyn breed is ideally suited to the commercial market and they are productive, self replacing and prolific. This season Peregrine has chosen to keep animals pure bred as there is so much demand for Lleyn females. Most males sold deadweight, predominately to Rand ll Parker in Wales, with about 5-10% of males retained. Breeding rams must be in the top 1% for the breed in order to be used on the flock.

Ewes will be ranked by breeding index, with Peregrine putting greater emphasis on four key traits: growth rate, fecundity (litter EBV), worm resistance and mater al ability (which includes milkiness). Lower ranking ewes on these traits will be culled from the flock. “Most of my ewes are in the top 5% of performance recorded flocks. I’d like them to be in the top 1%,” he adds. The benefits of selecting for growth rate - and specifically 8 and 21 week weights - has already proved its worth with fat lambs finishing earlier and earlier year on year and at heavier weights. These animals are finished on better pasture and snacker fed barley, along with fodder beet. 

Peregrine believes breeding for worm resistance is essential considering increasing resistance to anthelmintics on a national scale. High worm burdens are also a challenge on his 370 acre farm since moving away from mixed farming, so having resistant animals is hugely valuable.

As a result, he carries out individual ewe fecal egg counting and saliva testing in order to produce worm resistance EBVs. Having generated the first EBVs last year, this is the first season where animals have been selected for natural worm resistance. He is one of a small number of flocks in the country recording such parameters, although the Performance Recorded Lleyn Group tests around 3,000 animals a year.

Ewes lamb inside in March-April to enable greater accuracy of data recording. They will be provided with a grass and a Mole Valley Farmers Mineral Pack TMR at housing. Six weeks prior to lambing, homegrown barley and SoyPass will be added, and maybe some wheat, if grass silage quality is not sufficient.

Mole Valley Farmers carries out grass silage mineral analysis for Peregrine and designs a specific mineral pack for the flock in response. This includes Biotin, along with higher levels of vitamin E this year, following Peregrine’s request. He also buys fertiliser from Mole Valley Farmers including copper, zinc and selenium.

He adds: “Mole Valley Farmers is a good company to deal with. I think they are fair and straight. They never do predatory pricing for you and they mix their own minerals.”

When ewes and lambs go out to grass, the aim is for them to do as much as possible of grazed grass alone to maximise efficiencies. Ewe lambs will be given a little more support, with fodder beet provided in addition.



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 Newsletter 648

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