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The 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.”
Rams 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.
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.”
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.
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.
The event’s headline debate, UK Genetics are Fit for Purpose, resulted in delegates voting against the motion, with many suggesting UK genetics were a good base to work from, but imported genetics, even from foreign strains of UK breeds, may be needed as UK genetics couldn’t be adapted fast enough to suit the rapidly changing industry.
Speaking against the motion, Suffolk breeder Robyn Hulme told delegates he’d sourced genetics from New Zealand for that very reason. “Most UK sheep farms, on the evidence of levy board costings aren’t currently profitable. The only way to make a profit is to cut out unnecessary costs such as labour and feed. This is what New Zealand producers did more than 20 years ago, and importing means we can short cut to the end result. “But standing up for UK genetics, Lleyn breeder Neil McGowan said if breeders focused on the economically important traits they could adapt UK sheep to suit the modern industry. “The right sheep are here we just have to find them. UK sheep are already adapted to our environment and have the carcass traits our market demands, we just need to adapt them slightly to maximise the profit opportunities they offer.”
Meanwhile, Dewi Jones, chief executive of breeding company Innovis, said unless commercial farmers got a grip of their costs of production it wouldn’t matter what genetics they were given. “Farmers need to start managing their farms not their sheep. Get the grassland management right and then put stock on it, rather than adapting farm management to suit the sheep.”
Speaking via a phone link at the Royal Show, Jon Hickford, of Lincoln University, New Zealand, told a briefing that by selecting for footrot tolerance it was possible to greatly reduce the time and money spent controlling and treating foot-rot, particularly vaccination and foot bathing chemical costs.
“New Zealand’s experience suggests savings of about £2 a head could be made. The New Zealand wool industry is predicted to make savings of about NZ$24m (£9m) in the next 10 years.”
Dr Hickford said the cold survival gene marker could identify sheep with vigour and those with the ability to thrive from birth. “Lambs are ranked on three scores – A, B and C – and the idea is to avoid breeding from animals scoring C, rather than forcefully breeding towards sheep scoring A and B.
“A sheep with a C score is four times more likely to die of cold at birth than one scoring A,” he said. The test is linked to brown fat mobilisation at birth, as lambs who mobilise brown fat quicker are faster to get up and suck and thus have increased survival rates.
Suffolk Sheep Society commercial director Robyn Hulme said it was important for the breed to be at the forefront of such developments and ensure commercial ram buyers were given the chance to buy rams best equipped for their situations.
But MLC sheep and beef scientist Duncan Pullar said that, while the tests looked promising, it was essential to validate them under UK conditions before they were roled out on a wider scale.
Commercial Sheep Farmers have a unique opportunity to look at more profitable sheep production when the UK’s first New Zealand Suffolk Sheep open day takes place in Shropshire on Saturday 12th July.
Host Robyn Hulme explains that the family ‘ram breeding’ business is based solely on providing commercial sheep farmers with the appropriate tools to enable them to reduce their production costs and to increase their profits.
Robyn explains: “The removal of all subsidies in New Zealand over 20 years ago meant that the
“By importing NZ Suffolk genetics and copying their grass/forage/no concentrate management system we can offer British flock masters all the benefits of long living, highly fertile rams who produce easily born lambs that will finish off grass with minimum labour input. This has enabled us to create the ‘easyram’ concept accompanied by full records and performance guarantees.”
Speakers at the Pikesend Farm, Ellesmere, event, will include: