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Trend For Lowland Breeds in Hunt For 'Perfect Sheep'

09 October 2014

UK – Recent sheep farming choices have seen a drive to find the 'perfect sheep' at the expense of traditional industry stratification and purebred numbers.

This is according to EBLEX experts reacting to the latest estimates of Britain's flock, describing sheep farming as a 'very dynamic' industry. 

Released this week, the study showed a rise in ‘ad-hoc’ crossbreds as terminal sires and lowland breeds have expanded in the latest update of flock estimates of a series going back to 1971.

The trend is characterised by a smaller hill breeding flock which has left the national flock 2.2 million ewes down overall as lowland breeds remained static.

Crossbreds now outnumber purebeds 56:44, a change from 50:50 in 2003, the year of the last survey.

Furthermore, the Llleyn breed is now Britain’s most populous non-hill breeding ewe.

Among the findings, the report underlined a shift in the stratified to non-stratified ratio from 71:29.

This change was linked to estimates showing smaller Scottish Blackface, Swaledale and Welsh Mountain numbers.

Sire Statistics

Domination of Blue-faced Leicester sired cross bred ewes – at 2.2 million head - meant that North Country Mules were found on 20 per cent of farms.

Texel sired ewes were second at 1.6 million, around twice the number of Suffolk sired ewes.
When grouped with Charolais, they formed the basis of half the rams used in 2012.

Benefit of Sheep Data

According to Poppy Frater of EBLEX, documenting change will have ‘immeasurable benefits’ to future breeding strategies.

She added: “This insight helps EBLEX target research and development and knowledge transfer efforts to meet the needs of the industry.

“It helps breed societies understand the influence of their breeds on the commercial sheep industry and provides an overview for the other support organisations.”

How Different to the 1970’s?

British production has undergone ‘sweeping changes’ since the first survey and estimates were produced in 1971, remarked report writer Dr Geoff Pollott, Royal Veterinary College.

Once rare or non-existent breeds now dominate our industry - Dr Pollot, Photo Courtesy of EBLEX

“Breeds that were non-existent or rare in Britain now dominate our industry," said Dr Pollot.

"The plethora of local breeds developed after years of isolated farming in our countryside have now been swamped by breeds from abroad, new breeds made up from mixtures of many breeds or even our own breeds returned to us after years of breeding in strange climates."

Meanwhile, Dr Pollott sees the demise of the pedigree sector as drive by, “New technologies, hard factual information and the realisation that in order to stay in business it is necessary to react to the market.

“Breeds once thought preeminent have faded, markets once never dreamed of are now a reality and breeding methods once the realm of pig and poultry companies are becoming used more widely,” he added.

Michael Priestley

Michael Priestley
News Team - Editor

Mainly production and market stories on ruminants sector. Works closely with sustainability consultants at FAI Farms.

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