The ram for quality lamb


Alistair Freeland-Cook

Alistair runs 2000 commercial Mules on a low input, easy care system on his upland farm in the Scottish Borders, and buys three or four Meatlinc rams a year. He now places his order over the phone, trusting Mr Fell to select the most appropriate animals for his system.

He believes strongly that rams must have proven figures behind them, and that it makes no sense to buy on looks and then hope they produce the kind of lamb required.

“Our ewes lamb outdoors in April and the Meatlinc lambs hit the ground running  and never stop,” says Mr Freeland-Cook. “Almost all of them finish off grass and clover, and the Meatlinc genetics help them do this.

“We lamb from 1 April and start selling the singles ten weeks later. One third are sold before weaning – the rest are finished by the end of September, at a consistent 19-20kg deadweight. They all grade out at either R 3L or U 3L.”

Russel Stephenson

Russell runs 750 North of England Mules on hills overlooking the Derwent Reservoir near Hexham in Northumberland. Having made the decision to use rams based on performance data Mr Stevenson bought some shearlings from Mr Fell in 2008.

“We approached using EBVs with an open mind as we hadn’t used them before,” admits Mr Stevenson. “We focused primarily on the figures for growth rate and muscle depth.

“We downloaded a list of possible rams from which we made our initial selection – but we made our final decision by going to his farm to see them.”

Mr Stevenson has been very impressed with the results. The ewes lamb outdoors and the lambs suckle almost immediately and are tenacious characters – making any born at night difficult to catch in the morning.

They start selling lambs off grass alone from mid July and averaged 19.2kg deadweight. Weaned in August, Mr Stevenson said the lambs finished noticeably quicker and heavier than previous lamb crops.

“What clearly stood out for me was their really good, well fleshed backs. When we put them on the scales they were a couple of kilos heavier than I expected.  The carcases graded R2L or R3L as a minimum, and everyone of them hit target specification.”

Dylan Evans

Dylan Evans, who farms at Tywyn on the west coast of Wales has seen significant advantages to using Meatlinc shearling rams. Mr Evans runs 1000 welsh mountain cross ewes and a 30-cow suckler herd.

Lambing starts on 2 March; ewes with singles lamb outdoors, while ewes with twins give birth indoors but are turned out as soon as possible. No creep feed is offered and the lambs are weaned at 12 to 14 weeks. 80% of the lambs are sold deadweight.

“I noticed the Meatlincs at shows and really liked the concept of basing selection on performance records and EBVs,” explains Mr Evans. “I have been buying rams for six years now and they have made a tremendous difference to our system.

“Lambing is much easier, the lambs grow faster and better and more are hitting the top end of our target carcase specification. More than half are now achieving a U classification – previously this was more like 20%.”

Henry Rowntree

Henry has been buying Meatlinc rams for the past five years. Farming near Clitheroe in Lancashire, he runs a 450-ewe flock of Mules alongside the 160-cow Ribble Aberdeen-Angus herd.

He knows through the recording he does with the cattle, how figures can help to identify sires best suited to the animals on the farm and the system.

“Steers from a new high index bull I bought finished sooner and heavier than any before, out of heifers and with no creep feed,” says Mr Rowntree. “This kind of result cannot be chance – the improved growth rates have to be down to the bull’s superior genetics.

“This experience gives me confidence that tools like EBVs can be applied to my commercial sheep flock too.”

Mr Rowntree usually buys three Meatlinc shearlings from a pen put together by Mr Fell. They work well on his North Country Mules and generally achieve more than 200% at scanning.

Lambing commences on 19 March and lambs start being sold off their mothers in July, with most gone by the end of August.  Last year 800 lambs were sold from the 450 ewes that went to the tup, achieving an average price of £79/lamb.

He finds the ewes give birth easily and the newborn Meatlinc lambs are vigorous and suckle immediately. The lambs grow away well on grass and no creep feed is given. The aim is to run a low cost system by concentrating on high index genetics and keeping the stock as healthy as possible.