John Garner, Godwick Suffolk Flock
The Suffolk sheep winner of the EBLEX Improved Flock Awards for 2013 is the Godwick Flock, owned by John Garner who farms at Godwick Hall, near Kings Lynn in Norfolk.
Organised through the Sheep Better Returns Programme, this award is presented to the English performance recorded flock that has shown the most impressive improvement in genetic merit over a 12-month period, within the breed.
W R Garner & Son run arable, poultry and sheep enterprises on 269ha (665 acres). Wheat and oilseed rape are grown alongside a commercial flock of 160 Suffolk/Blue-faced Leicester ewes, and the pedigree flock of 40 Suffolks. The sheep graze 33ha (83 acres) of permanent pasture based in the deserted medieval village of Godwick. There is also 6ha (15 acres) of environmental stewardship with traditional grasses cut for hay.
John joined his father on the farm in 1954 and bought his first Suffolk ewes in 1960. He took over the management of the farm in 1962, and ten years later started breeding pedigree Suffolks, building up to 100 head. The flock has been involved with the Sire Reference Scheme since it started in 1989.
John uses the figures generated from performance recording as a marketing tool – if a customer likes the look of one of his rams he then uses Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) to show he also has the potential to deliver lambs with economically important traits. He also finds indexes useful for demonstrating how good a ram is within his breed. One ram, Drinkstone Supersire 2004 has had a major influence on the flock over the years.
On 12 August each year John’s 40 pedigree ewes are artificially inseminated using semen from four different rams. Any that do not conceive go to a Blue-faced Leicester ram for two cycles to produce ewes for the commercial flock. These are then crossed onto a Southdown ram to produce lambs that finish at grades around R3L.
“The beauty of AI is that I can select semen from particular sires to match certain individuals within the flock,” explains John. “It is good for recording purposes and breed planning”
The flock can run in and out of a yard from mid-December, and is housed in January. After lambing, the ewes are fed hay/ haylage and an 18% protein concentrate. The lambs have access to creep feed up to 20 weeks of age. The flock is turned out onto pasture that has been rested since December, and the lambs are weaned by mid-April.
All lambs are ultrasound scanned at around 21 weeks of age to accurately assess their muscle and fat depth. John looks for animals with good conformation, taking particular notice of their top line, loin, hindquarter and legs. He also looks at the Muscle and Fat Depth EBVs for each animal. Replacement ewe lambs are chosen based on this data and selection criteria. Ewe and ram lambs that fail to make the grade are finished and sold.
Customers starting to look for figures
John’s main customers are commercial producers with flocks of 750 or more ewes, who buy directly from the farm. He says they are often impressed by how quickly lambs produced by recorded sires grow and finish.
Louise Catling farms at Hall Farm, Dilham, near North Walsham; a mixed arable and livestock unit with 400 commercial ewes, 100 replacements and 60 Norfolk Red Poll cattle. Louise has bought rams from John every other year for the past 12 years.
Her ewes lamb indoors in February and March and are then group housed until turnout onto stubble turnips. Early born lambs are ready to be marketed from 12 weeks of age – with most gone by mid July.
“John is utterly reliable,” says Louise. “He performance records everything, and knows my system. So between us we are able to identify rams that will suit my flock. I am particularly interested in the 8 and 21-week weight EBVs, as well as the Muscle Depth EBV.
“Over the years John’s careful selection and attention to breed traits are producing rams that produce lambs that are born easily and finish quickly.”
Commenting on winning the award, John said he was quite surprised, putting it down to one particular high index ram – Cockleby Washington Musclemaster– who sired some very high performing lambs last year.
Invest in superior genetics
“One of the major benefits of improving the genetics of a flock is the cumulative and permanent way it lifts performance,” says EBLEX sheep breeding specialist Samuel Boon.
Photo –John Garner with his early lambing Suffolkewes