Why hill sheep farmers can’t ignore the benefits of crossbreeding

Improving pregnancy rates and ultimately weaning rates opens up options for crossbreeding on hill sheep flocks, according the Teagasc’s Frank Campion.

Speaking at the recent Teagasc Hill Sheep Conference, Campion said that as the weaning rate increases, the level of crossbreeding that can be carried out on the flock can also increase without negatively impacting the number of replacement ewe lambs available.

Touching on the performance of a Teagasc BETTER hill farm flock –  running purebred Lanark ewes – Campion said: “During mating 2014, 2015 and 2016, the average body condition score (BCS) was 3.1, while ewe live weight averaged 53kg at mating.

This helped the flock achieve pregnancy rates > 90% and weaning rates between 1.1 to 1.2 lambs per ewe joined.

When such a level of performance is achieved, he said, this could allow the flock to crossbreed up to 52% of the ewes in the flock. This would also help to increase weaning weights and the performance of lambs post-weaning.

He said: “Crossbred ewe lambs bred from prolific rams are highly attractive to some lowland producers.”

Where lambs are well-bred, he said, producers can obtain prices far in excess of a factory lamb.

“Niche marketing options like this – where viable – are vital to any sector, but particularly the hill

The benefits from adopting this approach are as follows:
  • More saleable crossbred wether and ram lambs;
  • Heavier lambs (3-4kg heavier at weaning);
  • Improved selling price;
  • Better performance during the finishing period;
  • Prolific females available for lowland farms or sales.

Touching on the factors that affect the rates of crossbreeding within flocks, Campion said: “The potential for crossbreeding within each flock ultimately depends on the replacements required and, for the most part, is determined by the existing level of ewe and flock productivity.”

A guideline for the percentage of a flock that is required for producing replacements. Source: Teagasc