Breeding and the producer
The factors that influence livestock performance can be divided into those that are due to an animal's breeding potential, as determined by it's genes, and those due to the environment in which it is reared.
It is important to get both of these aspects of production right, but whilst the management of a sheep can be changed throughout it's productive lifetime, breeding potential can only be influenced before it is conceived. This makes the selection of breeding stock extremely important.
The only influence that a ram has over it's offspring is through it's breeding, so it is vitally important to assess this element of a ram's performance separately from the combined visual impact created by feeding, management and breeding. It is not possible to identify a good ram by "eye alone"; ram buyers need performance records to assess breeding potential.
The first computerised breeding calculations were completed by MLC in 1971. New techniques have been developed to assess carcass attributes, using ultrasound scanning and computed tomography, and new indexes have been created to complement industry breeding objectives. The commercial ram buyer can now purchase the most profitable breeding stock for their enterprise with confidence.
Breeding and the industry
- At an industry level, breeding improvement has a special importance, because of the advantages it has compared to other management strategies. Breeding improvement is permanent, cumulative, sustainable and cost effective.
- Permanent: the genetic potential of an animal is independent of environmental and management changes and does not change throughout an animals life.
Cumulative: improvements made to one generation are added to those made in previous generations.
Sustainable: improvements can continue to be made as long as there is genetic variation
- Cost effective: the financial benefits to the British sheep industry due to breeding improvement of terminal sire breeds since the late 1980s is estimated to be worth £4.8 million (Simm, Amer & Pryce, 1997).