Robyn Hulme

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A case study: Breeding to reduce costs at Easyrams

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.

Import “genetics” belangrijk voor een rendabele schapenhouderij?

Jonathan Long schreef op de site van Farmers Weekly het volgende artikel over de vraag of buitenlandse (lees: vooral Nieuw Zeelands genetichmateriaal moet worden geïmporteerd om te komen tot een meer rendabele schapenhouderij. Oordeel zelf.
Tuesday 17 November 2009 04:06

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.”

Gene markers on test on Suffolk sheep – 09/07/2007 – FarmersWeekly

Gene markers on test on Suffolk sheep
09/07/2007 00:00:00
Suffolk sheep breeders will be some of the first in the UK to benefit from gene markers developed in New Zealand for footrot tolerance and cold survival.

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.

suffolk- sheep 2

“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.

Gene markers on test on Suffolk sheep – 09/07/2007 – FarmersWeekly

Suffolk trials show easier care potential

Suffolk trials show easier care potential
07/05/2008 14:00:00

Early results from a trial comparing the performance of the progeny of 10 Suffolk rams indicate significant potential for cutting costs by using easier care traits.

The work has also demonstrated that breeders do not need to turn to New Zealand to get hold of the genetics they need.

Three groups of lambs sired by New Zealand-bred tups imported as embryos, high index rams and traditional tups selected on eye were bred at Morfa Mawr, Ceredigion, out of 506 mixed-aged Mule ewes.

Technical help was provided by the breeding company Innovis to collect semen to artificially inseminate the ewes, which were heat-synchronised. The aim was to ensure all the different types of Mules in the flock were matched to the different sire groups.

Seventy-five per cent conceived and the ewes scanned at 1.93 lambs/ewe. In early February, 99% of 702 lambs were born alive.

Janet Roden, who supervised the work, told breeders who attended a flock inspection on the trial farm, owned by the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth, that ewes received identical post-insemination treatment.

Blind performance monitoring

In fact, eartag records were locked away so there was “truly blind” performance monitoring. Even she did not know which lambs had been sired by the different tups until shortly before the inspection was staged.

When the Abersystwyth University research associate presented lambing and pre-weaning results, she said the greatest variation was found within populations of lambs born to the different types of sire rather than between populations.

Only 2.3% of lambs were lost within the first 48 hours after parturition, with no differences in survival rate between lambs sired by the different sire groups.

The average birth weights were 6.1kg for singles and 5kg for twins. Lambs sired by the four New Zealand rams were marginally lighter at birth and presented fewer lambing problems.

Monitors recorded the level of help ewes needed, on a scale ranging from none to “call the vet”. Overall, only 6% of lambs required assistance to start suckling and most of these were triplets.

Individual and groups of sires

Lamb vigour was assessed and it was found that variation – judged by the ability to stand up and suckle – was greater between individual sires than between groups of sires.

At eight weeks, the heaviest lamb weighed 34kg, singles averaged 26kg and twins 21kg. Those out of UK high-index rams averaged 21.6kg, those sired by traditional Suffolks 20.7kg, while New Zealand-sired lambs averaged 20.0kg.

All the progeny were also assessed for dagginess on a scale of 1 to 4. While 15% of the New Zealand-sired lambs were dirtier than Dr Roden would like, they were slightly less daggy than the 25% in the two other sire groups, though one traditional tup was ranked second overall for cleanliness.

An attempt will be made, using faecal egg counting, to assess the link between dirtiness and variation in worm resistance between the 10 sires.

A full breakdown of variations in lambing ease, early vigour and weight gains will be published when Dr Roden has details of time to slaughter, carcass weights and lamb grades. The aim is to get lambs that classify 3L without using any creep feed.

“The initial results have revealed considerable variation in the easy care attributes of lambs sired by different rams that breeders can exploit,” said Dr Roden.

Immediate labour and cost reduction

Robyn Hulme, Suffolk Society commercial director, agreed and claimed commercial producers could gain immediate labour and cost reduction advantages by sourcing rams recorded for easy-care traits.

“An increasing number of Suffolk breeders are now concentrating on selection policies emphasising minimum labour input. Over 250 members are recording lambing ease and lamb vigour.”

The trial proved beyond doubt the importance and advantages of recording, which had been society policy for a number of years.

Prys Morgan, industry development manager at Hybu Cig Cymru, which sponsored the trial, claimed the results showed how breeders could use performance recorded stock to meet their individual farm requirements.

The final report, including detailed costings, would appear on the HCC website later in the year.

CAP: Lambs by high index UK Suffolk tups had the highest eight week weights, while those by New Zealand bred sires were less daggy, said Janet Roden.

by Robert Davies (About this Author)

Suffolk trials show easier care potential

Grass fed NZ Suffolk x lambs in Shropshire

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
Grass fed NZ Suffolk x lambs in Shropshire
current difficulties of UK sheep farmers have already been explained by NZ farmers who were forced to breed sheep that required minimum labour input and had maximum disease resistance. Today in NZ one person is able to look after a minimum of 3000 ewes and their lambs.
“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:
English born ROSEMARY HAMILTON, who, with her NZ husband, has been running 6,500 ewes on the South Island.
ROBIN FAGAN is also a NZ farmer who also owns NZ’s leading sheep and cattle handling equipment – Racewell.
Signets general manager SIMON BOON
Sheep veterinary specialist HARRIET FULLER.
Innovis will demonstrate Genemarker Technology and North Wales