For the Lifestyler
Hassle free, worry free - sheep should look good and not eat up all your time taking care of them. We score every ewe at lambing for how good a mother she is, for her milk production, and we record birth weights and litter size. Our ewes talk to their lambs, get them up and drinking, and keep a close eye on them in the paddock. In fact we have very few poor mothers at all now due to strong selection pressure on this trait.
Nothing is as disheartening as lambs lost at birth. By testing and selecting for the "A" survival gene we're making sure the lambs have vigour at birth. Coupled with good mothering, these lambs should have a great start to life. The lamb survival gene helps them get on their feet, keep their mother interested, and get the first suck of energy-rich, life-giving colostrum.
Two lambs on every ewe is the goal, so we select for twinning. We also breed our ewe lambs - those that lamb as yearlings often have twins in subsequent years, since early fertility is a good indicator of fertility later in life.
Milk, milk, milk
If you want growthy lambs, you have to have milk and lots of it. The best lambs come from ewes that produce a lot of milk. And if you want twins, the ewe should be able to feed them. So we keep an eye on milk and the udder at lambing, and we pay particular attention to the growth of lambs up until weaning. We've even been milking the flock at weaning to assess udders, milk volumes and body condition at weaning.
Worms are a problem that aren't going away quickly. Regular drenching can be problematic on small blocks with limited facilities, and expensive, and can lead to drench resistance. The long term solution is to breed sheep with natural resistance to parasite infestation. We use the CARLA saliva test to identify ewes and rams that have natural resistance to worms, and then use these animals in our own breeding program. We even search afar for a ram to use that had good worm resistance in his pedigree as indicated the the SIL FEC breeding value. Our goal is to minimise our reliance on drench for the control of worm burdens. We also do faecal egg counts here on the farm to monitor worm burdens to better understand what's happening on the pasture.
Growth is a given. The Suffolk breed is most noteworthy for it's size and stature, and the growth that goes with that. It is the largest of breeds and often used as a terminal sire because of it's very high growth rate. So yes, we do of course pay a lot of attention to this.
Disease resistance, temperament
Facial eczema, pneumonia, mycotoxins just to name a few. We don't use zinc boluses or blocks, and we haven't really seen a clinical case of FE. What we do find is that if the sheep are in good condition we have very few health issues. Our sheep are able to resist problems to a large extent as long as they are well fed and relatively stress free. Having good temperaments, easily handled, not flighty, all leads to healthier, easier to manage animals.
For the Commercial Lamb Breeder
By selecting for the "A" above average survival gene and aiming for both alleles in each ram to be the "A" allele, we're trying to ensure lambs from our rams have maximum survival. More lambs surviving means a higher docking rate and better returns overall. We provide the genetic test results we have available for each ram we sell.
Fast growth means more efficient growth because lambs reach target weights more quickly. Particularly in the North where we often have dry summers and lose the grass, it's important to get lambs up to weight as quickly as possible, and off the farm, even by christmas. Larger framed Suffolk cross lambs should also be able to hit bigger weights before getting fat, maximising the $/lamb. We also have Goldstream 275/04 in our pedigrees conveying some of the best growth in the country to our flock. Our grass isn't Waikato rocket fuel ryegrass but a more modest mix of Kikuyu and drier country grasses, so you can have confidence in the ADG (Average Daily Gain) figures we provide for each sale ram.
A good lamb shouldn't look like a racehorse. The sires we use must have large eye muscle and good, big legs of lamb. Our pedigrees are fortified with Pahiwi 103/08 who scored extremely highly for EMA (Eye Muscle Area), very evident when looking at his strong, stocky frame.
Only half of a lamb's genetic ability to withstand worms is due to it's mother, equally as much comes from the sire. Every bit helps when Barber's Pole (Haemonchus contortus) strikes, and at anytime in general when worms are a problem. Drench is expensive and drench resistance is on the increase. Breeding for worm resistance is a long-term project, however the economics of worms certainly supports the effort. We have previously used the CARLA saliva test to identify those individuals who have better resistance to worm infestation and we spend time looking through the microscope at faecal egg counts. Pahiwi 103/08's sire scored 2nd highest Suffolk in the 2009 Central Progeny Test for FEC, a major reason for purchasing Pahiwi 103/08.
What about all those ewe traits we select for? Fertility? Milk production? Good mothers? Why does it matter? To make genetic progress we want good lambs that can express their genetic potential to grow, and we want lots of them. Having more lambs (higher lambing percentage) means we can have a higher selection intensity, or having more to select from. As a result we can make faster genetic progress, meaning we achieve our other trait goals more quickly. After all, isn't selecting the best rams from amongst 90 rams better than from 60? [90 ram lambs produced from a 180% weaning rate flock v. 60 ram lambs produced from 120% weaning rate flock]