Bowhill Estate plays key role in UK sheep project

Sion Williams, farm manager at Bowhill, is very enthusiastic about this project.
Sion Williams, farm manager at Bowhill, is very enthusiastic about this project.

A Borders estate is taking is helping the UK sheep industry to drive genetic improvement forward through the inclusion of commercial data in genetic evaluations.

Bowhill Estate, which primarily lies between the Yarrow and Ettrick Valleys, is comprised of 8804 acres and is one of six commercial farms around the UK taking part in the RamCompare project.

The two-year project, funded by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) along with other partners, got underway in May and will run over two breeding seasons until 2017. It involves artificial insemination (AI) and single-sire mating with rams from five pedigree breeds with known genetics and will work along the supply chain to get lamb performance data from farms and abattoirs included in genetic evaluation. Support for the project is also provided by the Sainsbury’s ‘Big Data’ Agriculture R&D Grant Scheme, Randall Parker Foods, Dunbia and Scotland’s Rural College.

Of the 4,500 breeding ewes at Bowhill, 200 Aberdale Blackface cross ewes have been put to a Texel, Suffolk, Meatlinc or Charollais ram supplied by the project, or to one of Bowhill’s own recorded Texel stock rams. A further 120 ewes from Bowhill will be artificially inseminated with semen from other rams within the project.

It is anticipated that a crop of over 500 lambs from these rams will be born in the middle of March next year. Data from the lambs will be collected through to slaughter and will be evaluated to see whether its inclusion in the rams’ genetic evaluations identifies differences between sires and improves their accuracy. A ranking of the tested rams, based on commercially important traits, will be produced at the end of 2017.

Sion Williams, farm manager at Bowhill, is very enthusiastic about being part of this project.

He said: “From a farming point of view, this project is really exciting and the information generated will undoubtedly improve the genetics of the Scottish sheep flock and the connection between the ram breeder and the commercial lamb on the market.

“We have been using EID since 2008 so have a keen interest in how genetics can influence performance. From a business perspective it will be good to see how these rams perform against our own, allowing us to make amendments to the breeding strategy and ram selection as a result.”

Michael Blanche, QMS Knowledge Transfer Specialist, said: “Central Progeny Tests have had a huge effect on genetic improvement in sheep elsewhere in the world and this is the first time one is being established in the UK. It means we can compare different rams against each other in real commercial situations. It is an important step in allowing us to compare animals purely on performance genetics irrespective of breed.”