How a lamb producer and breeder uses EBVs to market rams

David Rossiter is one of the pioneers of performance recording – he started collecting data in the 1970s when he was establishing Huish herds at Burton Farm in Galmpton, Devon.

He and his son Richard run about 1,400 Poll Dorset, Exlana and Suffolk/Aberblack ewes. The enterprise is an enterprise that generates stable cash flow throughout the year by selling breeding cattle and finished lambs.

Mr Rossiter says Estimated Breed Values ​​(EBVs), which show exactly where an animal ranks in a breed for specific traits of economic importance, play an important role in herd profitability.

See also: Tips for buying rams based on EBVs

“Having these numbers allows us to make better breeding decisions when breeding females and rams, both in our own herds and for our commercial and breeding customers.”

EBVs show their customers how rams compare to other breeds and which rams and females will be the most profitable for their farm.

Farm facts

  • 134 ha (331 acres) property; 273ha (676 acres) leased
  • 520 Poll Dorset ewes born in September and October or January
  • 200 Suffolk/Aberblack January ewes for sale through Innovis
  • 400 purebred Exlanas – 100 crossed with Poll Dorsets to lamb in March
  • 600 ewe lambs were sold as replacements or next year

Using performance records as a marketing tool

In the intervening five decades, he has seen huge increases in lamb growth rate, carcass conformation and maternal performance – a situation he attributes directly to his breeding program.

It has provided a solid foundation for herd improvement and as a marketing aid – the business is selling an average of 130 rams, up from 85 in 2018.

Four years ago, they set a target of 10% annual sales growth, and they are achieving it.

“If you can improve volume, you don’t have to push customers on price – if you do, they won’t come back. It should be profitable both for us and for our buyers.”

“Making our customers’ breeding records available means they can find the right ewe for their system, whether it’s to speed up lamb growth, improve carcass conformation or select rams for whatever trait they’re interested in.”

Sex-specific EBVs

The Huish sheep enterprise consists of:

  • Pedigree Survey Dorsets. The Rossiter flock has been recognized by the Poll Dorset Sheep Society as the 2021 UK Large Flock Champion.
  • Suffolk/Aberblack ewes have been developed with finer bone for ease of lambing and better conformation; with a rapid growth rate, they have proven to be attractive to commercially oriented customers
  • Wool-shedding Exlana sheep bred for minimal grazing and efficient use of poorer pastures
  • Some commercial sheep are not graded enough to join breeding flocks.

Significant figures differ between sexes. “For Exlana, it can be litter size, but it can also be muscular to add a bit more muscle to the type of sheep the customer wants to produce,” says Mr Rossiter.

“While muscularity and leanness are important for Suffolk/Aberblack, so is live weight gain.

“In Poll Dorsets, it’s all about eight-week EBV – the best indicator of how dairy ewes will fare. We select ram lambs based on that EBV right after weaning,” he explains.

Richard (left) and David Rossiter © Richard Rossiter

Visual selection

Mr Rossiter advises that numbers should not be used in isolation – visuals are also important.

“EBVs add to the picture, but for me, the stock I’m going to use as a sire has to look right, too.”

He encourages private customers to look at the entire group for sale and select twice the number they intend to buy.

“We then take the sheep through the race and look at the performance indicators behind them and put that in the context of what the customer wants to achieve with them – whether it’s improving muscle density or growth rate. herd.

“Then we can see which animals will perform best for them, so the customer gets animals they like the look of and have the traits to perform.”

There’s no doubt that performance records have dramatically improved his flocks, but he says he can’t continue to make progress without culling underperforming ewes.

“I consider it most effective to make this decision during lambing. Mr. Rossiter says the most efficient herd is one that continues to be slaughtered.

Livestock marketing tips

Estimated pedigree values ​​are only one layer of David Rossiter’s strategy for reaching customers. Other marketing methods used are:

1. Provision of resources at events

At this year’s National Sheep Association event, sheep from the Huish flocks were exhibited on the Exlana and Dorset Horn & Poll Dorset Sheep Breeders’ Association stands.

“It means work and effort, but you have to show up to be there,” says Mr Rossiter.

2. Intra-farm sales

Rossiters held its first farm sales in August to fill the gap in export sales following Brexit.

On-farm auctions are emerging as a popular alternative sales platform. These auctions are more convenient for sellers than buyers who can visit two or three times a week during the six weeks of the selling period.

3. Private sales

It can be a time-consuming system to sell a ram or two, but it allows you to build relationships. It also eliminates the risk of cross-contamination during sales.

“In terms of herd health, we are maedi visna accredited and part of the Scrapie Monitoring Scheme across all herds,” said Mr Rossiter.

4. Social media

When the pandemic halted live sales and customer visits to the farm, the business became active on social media. It’s not unusual for a post to get 350 views in 12 hours.

“Richard is very good with technology and has posted several videos on Facebook,” Mr Rossiter recalls. “We got a great response and we just went from there.”

He recommends limiting posts to relevant material. “Minor, mundane things like watering the flock or dealing with a lame sheep have nothing to do with what we do, so we don’t post about them,” he says.

5. Reputation

Mr Rossiter says a key factor in successfully marketing breeding stock is building a reputation as a reliable and consistent breeder.

“Don’t think you can keep a poor lamb for 18 months and sell it to another flock, it won’t do your reputation any good,” warns Mr Rossiter. “Such an animal must be removed from the herd.”

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