The question that must be answered is why any breeder should buy rams from another breeder just because the breeder calls his rams “stud rams” but does nothing to improve his sheep differently from what all the other commercial breeders are doing in any case. Usually, the only difference is better feeding, management and sales talk. Remember that the phenotype of a sheep (what he looks like) is determined by his environment (feeding and management) and his genetics. The scary thing is that 78% of what you see is determined by the environment, and only 22% by genetics. Stated differently, 78% of what you see in a ram stays behind on the seller’s farm, and you are taking home only 22% of what you see with which to improve your sheep. This being the case, you must make very sure that the 22% can improve your sheep, or else you might as well have used your own best-looking rams (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: Phenotype = Environment + Genetics
When the two rams in Figure 1 are compared, most would say that the bottom ram is the best because of his better confirmation. The fact, however, is that it is the same ram, the only difference being two months’ or more feeding. Genetically, they are identical, but if they were two different rams with the same genetic value on a sale, the one would probably not be passed or would be sold for considerably less. This regularly happens to my rams and I am sure yours too when they are brought in to be prepared for sale later than other rams and sometimes have received no feed at all. A ram may be genetically the best but just does not look the part. This is the reason why we feed our sale animals, especially rams. Take note that 78% of what you see is determined by the environment, and only 22% by genetics. Yet very few breeders have the knowledge or the information available to determine which sheep is genetically the best.
The difference between recorded stud breeding and commercial breeding is that the recording stud breeder must do everything in his power and use all methods and tools available to improve his sheep genetically. This is often done by denying them better feed, licks and drenching to allow only the best genetics to lamb, and by regularly growing their lambs out well and culling the lower quality animals that don’t achieve this.
The commercial breeder, on the other hand, can manage and feed his sheep as well as possible by determining his optimal levels to assure him of maximum profit on his specific farming unit. He will then do well to buy rams from a registered stud breeder who goes out of his way to enhance his sheep genetically to assure the genetic improvement of his buyers’ ewes.
Let us now look at what the registered stud breeder must do to best guarantee genetic improvement.
- Firstly, he must identify every sheep and record everything he needs to know about them to improve them genetically.
- Secondly, he must be brave enough to feed and dose less than his commercial customers. He must be brave enough to allow at least 20% of his herd to take a knock with parasites or poor condition before he considers dosing, feeding or providing licks. Then he should make sure to get rid of that 20% so as not to multiply those poor genetics in his herd. Remember, the animal that does the best under poor conditions will, in most cases, also do the best under good conditions, but not vice versa.
Figure 2 provides the nett breeding rate set out as estimated breeding values. No one can deny that this is how a sheep makes money for a breeder in a standard environment. On the left, lambs are measured for Amount of lambs by measuring fertility by breeding values for AFL (age first lamb) and ILP (inter-lambing period) and for multiple births by number of lambs weaned. However, it does not help to have a lot of lambs if they did not survive and grow well. So, on the right, quality of lamb is measured by mothering ability with breeding value TWW (total weaning weight). Growth is measured by breeding values for wean maternal (milk), wean direct and post-wean direct. It is of utmost importance to get the balance right between amount of lambs and Quality of lambs as these two factors are always competing against each other. Registered stud breeders who get this right will definitely be able to sell better genetics to their clients.
Figure 2: Nett breeding tempo set out as estimated breeding values
Next, let us look at what must be recorded and why (see Figure 3).
- At birth, every lamb must be recorded with an ID number, its date of birth, its sex and its father’s and mother’s ID number.
Reason: This is done to have a comparison group of the same age to accurately compare the lambs’ weights growing up and to build up a record of all ewes regarding fertility and the phenotype of all ewes’ and rams’ progeny. Also, it is done to build up pedigrees to prevent inbreeding in future. There is no greater contributor to the loss of lambs from birth to weaning than inbreeding. Fertility too is very negatively affected by inbreeding.
- Weigh all lams at birth, 42 days, 100 days and 270 days. For Meatmasters, the 100- and 270-day weights are the most important; the birth and 42-day weights are optional.
Reason: These weights are used to calculate the growth of lambs to wean and post-wean, and the milk and rearing ability of their mothers.
- At about 12 months, all lambs should be scored for conformation and Meatmaster type on a scale of 1 (poor) to 9 (excellent). The codes available should be used to specify all the faults and good traits of each animal. The colour can also be recorded according to all the codes available if needed. Photographs of the more important animals (e.g. the rams you use and the sire’s mother) can be taken and stored.
Reason: You then have a record and information of all animals in the entire pedigree of a ram you may want to use. So, you can immediately see the good or poor traits in all the generations to help you make a better choice of the sire to use. At the press of a button, you have all the information, and it is as if the sheep itself has come to life and is standing right in front of you.
Figure 3: Information recorded and reason for recording it
On the left screen shown in Figure 3, you can open screens for general, birth and mating information. In the centre, you have a further choice of seven screens, and on the right, a choice of five screens. On each screen will be all the relevant data you have recorded. On the bottom screen, you can see one report or as many as you would like to make up all information available on the progeny of a ewe or a ram. On the bottom line, you can see that the ram has had 182 lambs and the average of all the lambs for every trait. You can also scroll down through all the lambs and see the information on each one regarding personal information, BLUP values and performance test data, down to where it was sold, to whom and for what price. It is obvious that with all this added phenotype and scientific data at one’s fingertips, one must be able to make better decisions for definite improvement.
- The commercial breeder must never be seen as in any way inferior to the registered stud breeder. In fact, over the long term, many commercial enterprises are more profitable than stud breeders. I would estimate that more than 50% of so-called stud breeders would do better if they rather concentrated on a good commercial unit.
Reason: You can run a lot more ewes than keep a herd of rams. A very high percentage of ewes qualifies as replacements or as good enough to sell, while a very low percentage of rams ever qualifies as sale rams. Rams are much more difficult to rear and cost a lot more to rear than ewes. The registration and recordings take a lot of time and dedication and are also more costly than running a commercial herd.
With the huge demand for ewes, Meatmaster breeders will do well to give it a lot of thought whether to be a registered stud breeder or a commercial breeder. As a commercial breeder, one can still be a member of the Meatmaster society and enjoy all the advantages of membership, such as selling under the auspices of the Meatmaster Society at sales, making use of our inspectors and sharing in all advertising.
The commercial industry and the registered stud industry are of equal importance to the Meatmaster breed and depend on each other for long-term success. Registered stud breeders should be far fewer in number but at the top of the pyramid, with commercial breeders huge in number and filling the bulk of the pyramid.
Genetics will never be a perfect science, but the more registered stud breeders do in order to accurately record their animals and use all the tools available to select for genetically more profitable sheep to make available to the commercial industry, the better and more profitable the Meatmaster breed will become. Garry Player once said that the harder you practised, the luckier you would become. It is the same with genetics – though it is not a perfect science, the more information you have, the luckier you will become.
It is always good to remember that you will improve your herd better by concentrating on accurately identifying the 20+% least profitable animals and getting rid of them instead of trying to make the best ones better.
I have no doubt that if the Meatmaster Society and breeders diligently pursued and get it right to breed animals as discussed above and did it in a sustainable way, the Meatmaster breed would become the biggest breed in South Africa simply because it is the most profitably breed to farm with in most regions.
OUR TEAM OF DEDICATED REGISTERED AND COMMERCIAL MEATMASTER BREEDERS CAN MAKE IT HAPPEN.