Irish Country Meats (ICM), in collaboration with ABP Food Group, has this morning, Wednesday, December 20, launched a new sustainability project focused on the use of 5-star terminal rams.

According to ICM, the aim of the project is to demonstrate the benefits of using 5-star rams on family farms across a range of systems.

The systems include:

  • Sheep farmers breeding store lambs;
  • Farmers finishing store lambs;
  • Farmers who bring their own lambs to finishing.

The main areas of focus include improving lamb health, carcass quality and reduced days to finish, all of which will lead to “more economic and environmentally sustainable lamb production systems”, according to ICM.

The project is being supported by Sheep Ireland, and the findings from it will be made available to the farming community.

The project started in Autumn 2022, when ICM bought its first 5-star rams. These two rams were from the Suffolk breed and were placed on a farm in Tousist, Co. Kerry.

The video below outlines further details of the project:

The rams went to a farm which operates a birth to store lamb production system.

The host farm was selected in a large store lamb producing region.

The ICM statement said: “It was important to select a farm that is typical to the industry and faces the similar challenges of weather and land type as many in the trade do.”

The lambs sired by these rams were purchased by the ABP Demo Farm in August 2023 at an average weight of 31kg.

A further selection of lambs sired by conventional rams from the same farm were purchased for comparison to benchmark the benefits of the 5-star rams over what was already used for breeding on farm.

Over the coming weeks, this group will be entering their finishing period. A full breakdown of performance will be completed and published after slaughter.

Additional rams

In 2023, on the back of a successful first year of the project, it was decided to purchase three additional 5-star rams for the project.

One Suffolk ram and two Texel rams were purchased. The Suffolk hogget ram was purchased as an addition to the farm involved in year one of the project. The two Texel hogget rams were purchased for a new partnering farm which brings all lambs from birth to finish.

In collaboration with Sheep Ireland, the three new rams were purchased at the Elite Multi-Breed €urostar Ram Sale in August 2023.

When selecting the rams, great emphasis was placed on reduced days to slaughter, lamb survivability and data accuracy.

Pictures of the rams involved in the project:

Rams were selected based on terminal traits. The aim was to purchase rams within the top 10% of the overall terminal index, days to slaughter and with accuracy levels of over 70%.

A range of ram breeds will be used for the project. The policy is: “Everyone has a preference on which breed suits their farm best. However, it is important to select the best genetics within that breed”.

The information on each of the three rams can be seen below:

The farms involved in the project are based on hill-type ground and were selected to represent a typical Irish sheep operation.

The farms involved in the project are similar in nature. Lowland grazing is limited and is offered during mating, directly post lambing and then mainly retained for weaned/finishing lambs.

The ewes spend the majority of the Summer on the hill with their lambs. Harsh weather and delayed grass growth is very common in the areas due to its geographical nature which can lead to difficult grazing conditions.

The rams were each let out with a group of around 50 ewes with the aim of getting a good sample population of 5-star sired lambs from both farms.

The performance of these lambs will be benchmarked against that of their counterparts on the farm sired by conventional rams.

The data to be recorded includes:

  • Ewe tag number for each ram used;
  • Scanning rate;
  • Lamb birth weight and date (lambs tagged at birth for identification);
  • Weaning weight;
  • Weighed once/month from 30kg to finish;
  • Liveweight before finish;
  • Carcass quality;
  • Genotyping: All lambs sired by the rams will be genotyped to ensure they are the correct bunch of lambs but also to see how influential the 5-star rating is on the progeny performance of each individual ram.

The new SIS (Sheep Improvement Scheme) launched by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has led to an increased demand for higher genetic merit rams. Part of this financial support scheme requires farmers to purchase a genotyped 4 or 5-star ram.

Commenting on the initiative, the ICM Navan general manager James Smyth said: “As a company, we are delighted to be involved in a project that will support on-farm economic and environmental sustainability.

“Our store lamb producers and finishers are really important to the industry and the role of animal breeding can play a big part in improving on-farm efficiency on the breeder and finisher flocks.

“We decided to develop this project to support the work that Sheep Ireland and Teagasc are doing in this space and we feel the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s (DAFM’s) new Sheep Improvement Scheme (SIS) is an excellent initiative to drive on sheep breeding in Ireland”

ABP Food Group’s Advantage Beef Programme farm liaison officer Gavin Healy said: ABP has been involved in Agri-sustainability with the ABP Demo Farm since 2014 and the results really highlight that when we select better genetic beef cattle, we can increase on farm profit and reduce the carbon footprint at the same time.

“The plan for this project is to see how this concept applies to lamb production. As a sheep farmer, I am delighted to be involved in the project and look forward to seeing the results.”

Pedigree Texel breeder Flor Ryan said: “We are delighted to have rams selected for the project, it’s great for us as breeders as we must be doing something right and we really look forward to seeing how they do.

“Everyone is drawn to a breed and we have had pedigree Texels here for the past 35 years. Since we moved to purchasing 5 star rams on the farm, we have seen improvements in our flock in terms of maternal and terminal traits and the proof is in the pudding as we have consistent repeat customers”.

Updates and information from the project will be disseminated and shared throughout the duration of the initiative.