A case study: Breeding to reduce costs at Easyrams

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The Suffolk Breed winner of the EBLEX Improved Flock Awards for 2011 is the ‘Easyrams’ Flock, owned by Robyn and Philippa Hulme, and their sons James and Nick, who farm near Ellesmere in Shropshire. The flock has made rapid genetic improvement in the last 12 months, using the CT scanner to identify superior genetics within the flock and making wide use of elite homebred sires.

Suffolk lambs Robyn HulmeThe Crosemanor Suffolk Flock was established in 1952 by Mr Hulme’s late father, Stan Hulme, and has been recorded with Signet since 1977. However, recently the focus for the breeding programme has changed significantly. The original flock was sold in 2005/2006 and replaced with 100% pure New Zealand Suffolk genetics.

New Zealand Genetics
The first embryos were imported from Bruce Rapley’s ‘Goldstream’ Suffolk Flock – the highest Index flock in the country. New Zealand was selected as the source of genetics due to their forage-based sheep systems, which require low labour input and deliver profit without any subsidies.

“The UK sheep industry has to reduce its costs,” says Mr Hulme. “We can’t do anything about what happens outside the farm gate, but we can breed rams that will improve the efficiency and profitability of our customers’ businesses.”

Suffolk lambs 2 Robyn HulmeRams are only sold off the farm (108 in 2010), and three quarters go to work as terminal sires on farms where ewes lamb outdoors. At home, less than 5% of the ewes have assisted lambings or require help with suckling, with overall lambing percentages at 180-185%. Lambs are never creep fed and are reared on milk and grass, making significant savings in concentrate costs.

Ram selection
For the past two years the main driver for ram selection has been improved conformation, and CT scanning is used extensively to identify future sires that confer the highest meat yields. Tools such as Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) are also important for selecting traits such as growth rates.

“I believe that it is our job to understand what customers want, and then strive to produce rams to suit their systems, that will earn them money by significantly lowering the costs of production,” says Mr Hulme.

“The rams we sell are fed no concentrates – so they may not be as big as other Suffolks – but when they get back on farm, they live longer, and are efficient and effective workers – with ram lambs serving 1:80 and shearling rams 1:150.”

Satisfied customers
Farmers Weekly ‘Farmer of the Year’ John Hoskin has bought rams from the Hulmes for two years, attracted by their high genetic merit, easy lambing traits and the high ram to ewe ratio.

“We only buy top 10% Signet recorded rams to serve our 1350 Suffolk/Mule and Mule ewes,” says John Hoskin.

“I am also looking for ewes that simply need overseeing when lambing outdoors, rather than assisting, and for the crossbred lambs to have good early vigour and a natural ability to grow on milk and grass alone. The Hulme’s rams deliver on all these aspects, which helps keep my sheep enterprise in profit.”

Organised through the Sheep Better Returns Programme (BRP), 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 the breed.

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