Reduced cost of scrapie genotyping using more efficient 3-codon test
A new test to determine the scrapie susceptibility status of breeding sheep is now available.
All samples submitted to SAC Consulting Veterinary Services will now be given a 3-codon (136/154/171) result. Previously a 2 codon test result was also an option, however we have found that the majority of clients opt for the 3 codon test as this is the one required for export.
The benefit of the new test for the sheep breeder is its reduced cost for 3-codon at £30/animal for 1-14 samples, and £25/animal for 15 or more samples against £32 (+VAT) formerly. Click here for submissions forms and information about scrapie monitoring and our scrapie genotyping service.
The test places the sheep into one of five scrapie risk categories. Breeders are advised to select those with the greatest protection against scrapie so as to minimise the risk of the sheep and its offspring developing the fatal brain disease.
For more information visit www.sheepandgoathealth.co.uk
The 2017 winner of the AHDB Beef & Lamb Better Returns Programme Improved Flock Award for Lleyn sheep is the Thistleyhaugh flock owned by the Nelless family, at Thistleyhaugh Farm, Northumberland. This award is presented to the English Signet performance recorded flock that makes the greatest improvement in the breeding potential of the lamb crop during the previous year. Read more [Here]
Lleyn sheep producers will be able to select animals for their resistance to roundworm, based on an estimated breeding value (EBV). [More]
Surveys have been commissioned by relevant bodies including the MLC, MAFF and now DEFRA and EBLEX. The surveys have been sent out as postal questionnaires directly to sheep keepers in 1971, 1987, 1996, 2003. The results of the most recent survey in 2012 have now been released having undergone analysis.
The Lleyn has continued to increase in numbers, with about half a million ewes found in 2012. Half were mated pure and the rest to a variety of ram breeds. Lleyn rams were mated to half a million ewes. The Lleyn is now the largest non-hill breed in Britain. [Read More]
A Perthshire farming couple have been congratulated by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) this week for their longstanding commitment to raising awareness of the importance of performance recording in Scotland.
Neil and Debbie McGowan, who farm at Incheoch near Alyth, were presented with the Johnston Carmichael Trophy at NSA Highland Sheep in recognition of their dedication to improving their flock through the use of EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values).
As well as being well-respected livestock farmers, the McGowans are also very willing to embrace innovation and developed their own system of recording maternal traits to support EBVs.
They were among the first in Scotland to opt to sell their pedigree rams from the farm, with the focus very much on communicating the animals’ EBVs (Estimated Breeding Values).
The couple developed their own maternal recording system to rigorously select the right genetics for home-bred replacements which supports the conventional EBVs. They now performance record 1,100 of their ewes which are mainly Lleyns with a few Texels. The couple also run 220 cows on the 1,200 acres at Incheoch.
Neil McGowan has recently won a Nuffield Scholarship to study the management of large-scale seed stock breeding programmes for cattle and sheep.
As part of the scholarship he plans to travel to New Zealand to see how performance-recorded flocks - sometimes extending to 20,000 ewes - are managed there.
Johnny Mackey, Head of Industry Development, QMS said: “The McGowans are extremely worthy winners of the trophy and have championed the use of performance recording for a very long time.
“Their family-run sheep enterprise is an excellent example of how EBVs can enhance a business and also how to market genetics to both the pedigree and commercial sheep farmer.”
Neil McGowan said: "We are really delighted to have received this award. The trophy has a lot of names on it of people who have inspired and helped us along the way. It’s great to see that since those early days, recording sheep has become more mainstream and is now much more accepted and understood than for those early pioneers."
Published by the Midland Farmer
A new way of measuring roundworm resistance pioneered by Lleyn sheep breeders could have widespread benefits for commercial lamb producers.
Commercial flock masters could benefit from harnessing the genetics of the Lleyn sheep – with bloodlines selected because they offer built-in resistance to roundworm, according to early results from a ground-breaking scientific study.
Initial results from the study appear to confirm the long held belief among some breeders that certain lambs within a group are more genetically resistant to roundworm – a parasite which can determine whether a flock makes a healthy profit or a substantial loss.
Although still early days, the experiment looks extremely promising, says Herefordshire producer Edward Collins, who is also secretary of the Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders Group (PRLB). “We are definitely seeing lambs that are showing more resistance than others.”
Based at Bearwood Farm, Leominster, Mr Collins established the Bearwood Lleyn Flock in 1998. It now totals 400 ewes. He mainly uses Lleyn rams and the majority of lambs going for meat meet the R3L classification or better with an average carcase weight of 20 kg.
The impact of roundworms on sheep production in the UK is an industry-wide concern, with the traditional use of drenches to combat the issue under threat from the increasing prevalence of anthelmintic resistance. But assessing resistance hasn’t always been easy.
Roundworm-infected lambs are subject to reduced feed intakes and poorer conversion of feed, resulting in reductions of live weight gain of up to 60-100%. Infectious roundworm larvae are found on blades of grass in pasture, where they are ingested by sheep and lambs.
In some sheep, roundworm populations in the gut will grow and reproduce relatively unopposed. In other individuals which are resistant to roundworm, the growth and reproduction of worms in the gut is less successful, and hence fewer eggs are shed.
PRLB members have long recognised the quality of their sheep – including the belief that some individual animals were resistant to roundworm. But to promote the Lleyn more widely, scientific evidence was needed to select sheep which possessed this trait for breeding.
The current approach to measuring worm resistance in sheep is the measurement of Faecal Egg Counts (FEC). The technique involves exposing lambs to worms on ‘dirty’ pasture before and then extracting a faecal sample before sending it away for analysis.
However, uptake of the technology has been relatively low. Lack of awareness among commercial producers, concerns over the level of worm challenge required and complications of sample collection are all see as barriers to uptake among breeders.
In conjunction with Glasgow Veterinary School and KN Consulting, the Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders Group drew up a proposal for a research project funded by the EBLEX Farm Innovation Grant (FIG).
The proposal was to develop a method of improving detection and uptake of genetic resistance to roundworms in the UK national sheep flock. It revolved around testing sheep saliva for parasite specific antibody (IgA) levels as a novel indicator of worm resistance.
Saliva IgA levels are seen as a better reflection of roundworm resistance because they reflect the worm challenge over a period of months whereas a faecal egg count only measures the current level of adult worm infection in an animal.
This means that the actual level of worm infection at the point of saliva sample collection is less important than when relying on a faecal sample and does not need an adult worm infection to the be present. Saliva sample collection is also easier to integrate into flock management practices.
Another attraction is that equipment for sample collection is readily available. It consists of a dental swab to absorb the saliva and a pair of forceps which are used to manoeuvre and hold the swab. Finally, a plastic container is needed to hold the swab after saliva collection.
Some 3000 saliva and FEC samples were collected across 12 PRLB members’ flocks from June to December 2014. Preliminary analysis of IgA levels yielded interesting results – confirming an expected relationship between FEC and IgA levels.
Animals with higher IgA levels tended to have lower FEC values – and were therefore perceived as being more resistant to roundworm infection. IgA measurements have since been used to produce preliminary Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs).
There were no unfavourable correlations found between IgA and production traits. This indicates that selection for resistance using IgA levels would not lead to any reduction in animal performance.
The EBLEX funded study indicates that IgA could offer itself as a feasible alternative, or improvement to the current FEC system. Additional research is required to predict the response to selection using salivary IgA and to incorporate salivary IgA into selection indices.
Further work is already planned, and the Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders Group intend to collect a similar number of samples again in 2015 – making this one of the biggest datasets of this kind anywhere in the world.
From a handful of farmers just two years ago, the Performance Recorded Lleyn Breeders Group now has 22 members across the length and breadth of the country – from Perth to Devon and Norfolk to Ceredigion – including flock masters who have anything from 50 to 3000 ewes.
As well as roundworm resistance, the Lleyn ewe has other qualities too, says Mr Collins. “She is prolific, a good mother and rears two lambs easily,” he says. “And with the correct breeding, Lleyn lambs will finish off grass without the use of expensive concentrate.”
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Peregrine Aubrey’s flock of Lleyns based in Kingsbridge, Devon has been recognised by EBLEX as the Most
Improved Flock of Signet recorded Lleyn sheep in England for 2015.
The award is presented by the EBLEX Better Returns Programme (BRP) to the recorded flock that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of ten UK breeds.
Peregrine has been farming at Eastergrounds Farm since 1986, where he originally kept a flock of 150 commercial sheep, a suckler beef herd and grew corn. All three were small scale enterprises and the main target was to optimise headage payments. In 2005, when they changed to an acreage system a major decision was made.
“This is when I decided to specialise in sheep, giving me the opportunity to do one enterprise to the highest standard rather than jack of all trades for three,” Peregrine explained.
“I sold all the beef and reduced the corn acreage, focusing on grass instead and now have grassland ranging from permanent pasture to relatively young leys on our hilly, lowland farm.”
Around 1998 Peregrine had started to introduce Lleyn genetics to the flock. The Lleyn is a high performing lowland ewe that is resilient and thrifty with easy-care attributes, whilst being highly productive.
Initially he bought some registered pedigree ewes from flocks such as Nick Tavenor, Dewi Ellis, and Edward Collins. He then bred his own replacements to increase his numbers gradually.
Since concentrating on sheep production he has established his own New Zealand Suffolk flock, and now has 50 ewes that run alongside his pure Lleyn’s. All sheep on the farm are managed and recorded on a commercial basis. Of the 700 Lleyns, the bottom tier are crossed to a New Zealand Suffolk to produce males for prime lamb, while the females sell well as crossbred commercial breeders.
Turning to performance recording to develop own lamb production
Whilst building sheep numbers, Peregrine started recording manually on paper to identify which ewes were performing well and ensure those ewes were retained, culling out the troublemakers.
“This was clearly only playing with sheep improvement. In order to gain knowledge of the sheep you are producing you have to record individual performance in far greater depth and have the ability to analyse the data in a more sophisticated manner,” he said.
“In 2009 when I saw that compulsory sheep Electronic Identification (EID) was on the horizon I started recording more formally and invested in a software package. I like the ability to ask the database questions in order to develop my system and analyse my data. The service provider is excellent and an efficient computer programme has now become an essential part of any breeding venture.”
Peregrine, an enthusiast of the New Zealand lamb production system, is consciously promoting his own recorded stock reared from a forage based diet.
“New Zealandis breeding sheep with genetics that seem to make a difference in any system they are introduced to.
"It is important to realise that breeding better sheep should be done with the mind not the heart or eye, and should always focus on the needs of the end user i.e. the commercial sheep farmer," he said.
He has invested in equipment to aid time efficiency so that he can now sort whilst handling by any data criteria. To Peregrine it was obvious that this path was a facilitator to Signet data recording and evaluation, which he started in 2011, providing a significant amount of back data.
Focusing on Individual Breeding Values
Studying the eight week and 21 week weights alongside maternal values and faecal egg counts with interest, Peregrine’s focus is on mature size and increased muscle thickness.
“Through the use of ultrasound scanning I can identify that animals are getting more muscular; an advantage providing it doesn’t increase lambing difficulties. The easy care attributes are essential and must be maintained alongside improved performance,” he confirmed.
“With positive correlation for lamb growth rate and mature size, I think it is imperative to maintain the overall efficiency of the ewe.”
Management of the flock and targeting sales
Using single sire natural mating groups his Lleyn’s achieve an average conception rate of 2.00, lambing indoors from March, with ewe lambs following the main group in April. All ewe lambs retained are put to the ram, anything not pregnant as a shearling is culled.
Using a colour coded system prior to lambing he can easily detect the higher ranked sheep and can confirm that they appear to present fewer issues at lambing.
"It would seem possible that the data picks up some positive practical attributes."
Ram lambs are only left entire from the best figured sheep; everything else is castrated at birth. Female replacements are selected from middle to high ranking sheep.
Lambs are weaned at 14 weeks of age and surplus lambs are sold deadweight by October, saving the grass for the ewes. Peregrine finds he continues to select bigger, heavier lambs quicker and puts this down to both genetics and improved management.
His main objective is to sell both males and females to commercial producers for reasonable prices, making sure that there is always superior value for money. Keeping records of past sheep sales, he uses Signet information combined with computer software tools to check he can offer non-related rams to the same customers, or rams to customers who have purchased breeding females.
Animals are all sold privately off the farm. In order to reach out to more people, Peregrine is in the process of developing his own website.
He has a high turnover of stock rams, using newcomers on plenty of ewes in their first season. If figures start to decrease he doesn’t use them again, but understanding the reasons behind the figures and what makes them shift is a constant battle.
It is hoped that using homebred rams may reduce the chances of their EBVs dropping, but this does nothing to enhance genetic variation. In 2013 he bought four new rams in, two did well under Signet evaluation so Peregrine kept some of their male progeny. Last season he used the nine best homebred rams, and is constantly on the lookout for fresh blood.
“Keeping the flock young with a high number of female replacements aids genetic improvement. Equally anything that is performing under par in a practical way, regardless of EBV, is culled,” Peregrine said.
“A few original ewes have gained high EBVs despite being from unknown parentage.
“The animals that do well in your local environment will take your program forward, these individuals need to be identified in any breeding program. I believe this can only be done through high level cross flock statistical analyses,” he concludes.
Commenting on the win, Signet Breeding Services Manager Sam Boon said: “Rates of genetic improvement in Signet recorded flocks are at an all-time high. The difference between the best high EBV breeding stock and average animals is increasing year on year.
“This means commercial producers have more to gain when investing in rams with superior genetics. Pedigree breeders can capitalise on these differences too and this is exactly what Peregrine has done. The improvement in the genetic merit of his flock is clear and he is to be congratulated on his achievement.”
NSA urges members to remember that new rules for sheep identification come in on Thursday 1st January 2015. The change that affects sheep keepers in all parts of the UK is that ewes from the historic flock (those tagged before 2010) will need to be individually listed on a movement record from 1st January unless they are moving directly to an abattoir or via a red market. This is not a requirement to retag older ewes and rams with full EID, but many producers may make that decision if it makes it easier for them to move older animals either between farms or via markets. But please note some auction markets (including all markets in Scotland) are asking for animals in the historic flock to carry full EID as a condition of sale. If you are not planning to EID tag older animals anyway, please check with your auctioneer what they require for their sales
Also from 1st January 2015, sheep keepers in England are no longer permitted to use non-EID tags for lambs and must use a single EID slaughter tag in lambs not being retained for breeding. Lambs born before 1st January are still permitted to carry a non-EID tag and there is no requirement to retag these animals. Use of the non-EID slaughter tag is still permitted in Wales until January 1st 2016, but NSA urges sheep keepers in Wales to be very careful about the tagging decisions they make in 2015. Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “It is has always been important to use the non-EID slaughter tag in prime lambs only and not in store lambs, but this will be even more important for Welsh farmers in 2015, as they will be the only nation still using the non-EID slaughter tag and will reduce their selling options if they use plastic tags in lambs that may be bought for further finishing.”
S4C TV (Freesat 120 or Sky 134) ran a feature on Dai on Monday 5th January as part of the Ffermio programme. Click [Here] to view the film on BBC iPlayer
The John Gittins Memorial Trophy was awarded to Dr Dai Morris for his services to the Welsh sheep industry by the Royal Welsh Agricultural Society. Dr Morris was presented at the Welsh Winter Fair. Congratulations from the Lleyn Sheep Society. Click [Here] to read full details
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