EBLEX BRP Improved Flock Awards 2012, James W Brown and Others, BHW Arran Flock
Suffolk sheep flock wins top award for genetic progress
The Suffolk winner of the EBLEX Improved Flock Awards for 2012 is the BWH Arran Flock, owned by Jim Brown who farms near Mindrum in Northumberland.
Organised through the Sheep Better Returns Programme, this award is presented to the performance recorded flock that has shown the most impressive improvement in genetic merit over a 12-month period, within English Recorded flocks for the breed.
Mr Brown owns 22ha (54 acres) and rents a further 16ha (40 acres) for winter grazing. In 1968 he and his brothers bought some Suffolk sheep with their pocket money. Their father bred Border Leicesters but the boys wanted something quite different and established the 34B Arran Flock. At 15 and nine years old they became the youngest flockmasters in the country.
In 1987, while working as farm manager at Mindrum Mill, Mr Brown started another Suffolk flock, taking over their ownership when his employer Mrs Chartres died. He was allowed to keep his original Arran Flock prefix. With a lambing percentage of 200% numbers quickly increased to 30 ewes.
Mr Brown was a founder member of the Border Leicester Signet Sire Reference Scheme, and felt it imperative to record the Suffolks once the Society moved to whole breed analysis. The flock has been fully recorded since 2004.
The ewes are fed cake and good quality silage made on the farm in the run up to lambing. Looking for high lamb growth, Mr Brown feels this helps the ewes produce a lot of milk and rear two strong lambs.
“Weight gain is a subtle thing that you can’t really see happen,” says Mr Brown. “But it is the key to having a profitable business as it can make a big difference to the costs of production.
“Performance recording is an extra tool that can take some of the guess work out of meat production. It mystifies me why the sheep industry is so slow to take it up!”
Selecting the best
Mr Brown implements a strict culling policy and does a broad selection at the end of April; anything not to be kept is sold and achieves a good market price. He makes a second selection the following spring.
The female traits he looks for are good conformation and legs, fine silky hair and good tight skin. He also wants good figures for weight gain, muscle and early maturity – all heritable traits.
When he started recording he bought two recorded rams from the Drinkstone and Hillend flocks. Each sire mated half the flock, and then each other’s daughters. Both rams were in the top 1-5% of the breed when purchased.
He has used both recorded and unrecorded rams since. Most rams have improved their figures after their first year in the Arran flock. For example, an unrecorded ram Birness Brodick bought at Shrewsbury, had an index of only 1.3 but a year later on the basis of his progeny, had shot up to 2.75.
Primarily selling shearlings at Builth, he has topped the shearling section twice in the last four years; mostly selling to commercial producers. A few are sold from the farm, and some go to pedigree breeders.
Customers look for figures
He finds virtually all of his customers are interested in performance figures, especially those looking for rams to suit their particular system.
“This is a credit to EBLEX and the good work they are doing in promoting the performance recorded message,” says Mr Brown. “The influence of advertising and the power of repetition are also useful. You can’t help but read about recording in the farming press these days, in particular the valuable knock-on effect on replacement cross females sired by high value recorded rams. This has a positive benefit for breeders who are recording.”
Looking to the future, Mr Brown aims to work quietly away to steadily increase numbers.
“If I like the look of a bloodline I will try to find a way to work it into the flock,” he said.
“Eighteen months ago I bought Essie Fit Like privately. He has grown into a big, very solid ram. He has, without doubt, made a difference to the flock and it is exciting to see the potential of his lambs coming through.”
Long term uplift from superior genetics
“One of the major benefits of improving the genetics within a flock is the cumulative and permanent way it can lift performance,” says EBLEX sheep breeding specialist Samuel Boon. “The time and effort involved will pay dividends for years – not just in the winning flock, but also in the flocks that buy Jim’s rams.
“With lamb prices at an all time high, the difference between choosing the right recorded ram for the farm, or an animal of average breeding merit could be worth £1,000 or more; so there has never been a better time to invest in superior genetics.”
“Jim’s use of high index rams like Essie Fit Like has had a big impact. This ram has growth and muscle Depth Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) in the top 1% and he has increased the breeding potential for lamb growth rate by nearly 2kg - with a similarly impressive increase in muscling.
“Experience and the use of performance recording have proved a winning combination for this small flock. Congratulations to Jim for coming out top for the Suffolk breed this year.”
Team of Arran Ewe Hoggs