Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Some thoughts on some common ram marketing claims

As we are coming into the ram selling season, I thought it might be of interest to sheep farmers to give my thoughts on the merits or otherwise of some of the claims that are often used to suggest one’s rams are better than someone else’s.

I would like to make it clear that I am a passionate ram breeder and as such I am not a neutral independent commentator on the following; however I would like to think my opinion is a well informed and an objective view

Firstly, you do need to cast a cynical eye over what is often being claimed as sometimes it’s nothing more than marketing dribble used to sell rams and adds little (being polite here) or no genetic value to the rams. 

Myomax:   This is a Texel specific gene test only, so if someone is advertising Romneys or any non Texel breed (e.g. suffolks) with a single and/or double copy of this gene, then they are not pure, they are crossbreds: e.g. a Romney that has had a Texel put through them; it could be ½  Romney, ¾ Romney etc.  If it has a double copy it would have to of had a Texel put through the flock at least twice.   Good luck to anyone who wants to do this, but be aware of what you are buying.  If you buy any rams with a myomax gene, then check that the breeder is also testing for the blind gene that is associated with Texels to ensure you don’t bring that into your flock.   One other point about myomax is that one copy gives you roughly a 10% gain in the eye muscle area, but what needs to remembered if you buy a ram with a lousy eye muscle, 10% more of a crap eye muscle may not be as good as a ram with a good eye muscle and no myomax gene. 

Worm Star test:  This is approximately 80% about growth and 20% about worms.  So I personally consider the name of this to be somewhat misleading as it’s principally about growth rates, simplistically it could be renamed the growth star test. A scientist has advised me on more than one occasion, if a sheep does have good growth rates then logically it is probably handling any worm burden better than those that don’t.  The most reliable data you get from SIL is in fact ebvs on growth rates (young stock at least), so this test adds little, if not nothing, in my view. 

CT Scanning:   For CT Scanning to add genetic value to the rams you buy, the breeder needs to be scanning a sufficient sample size of each sire they use, say 20 to 25 sons (some may argue a few less) and if they do, then they are providing you with good information.  However I am personally unaware of anyone scanning these sorts of numbers per sire.  The reason being is because of cost, but unfortunately CT scanning only a few rams simply provides you with phenotypic information, i.e. what the animal looks like as opposed to genotypic information (the genetic makeup of the animal).  In other words genetically you don’t know whether the ram at issue has the genes to provide you with more meat or not, it may do but it may not. You need to find out how many rams per sire the breeder is scanning before assessing whether it adds any genetic value to the rams you are considering buying. 

We only keep twin ewes and use twin rams:  Where you have a stud breeder who records all the information they should do and are on SIL, then this is just a crap marketing statement that adds no value to the rams you buy, in particular in terms of fecundity.  Simplistically the easiest way to demonstrate why is:  you have two rams, one a single, the other a twin, the single is out of ewe that has had 6 sets of twins and then this single ram, while the twin is out of ewe that has had 6 singles in a row, then has this set of twins (note in reality I would hope that most breeders would have culled such a ewe after two singles in a row, if it’s not a terminal breed).   Accordingly if you are looking for the ram that is likely to provide you with most fecund progeny (i.e. more multiples), then clearly the single ram is the one you would take hands down.   SIL’s ebvs for number of lambs of born would also back this up.  Accordingly such a policy in a stud programme is likely limiting that stud’s progress.   Note hypothetically  if two rams are exactly the same with one being a twin, the other a single, then I too would take the twin every time. 

All rams for sale from top 35% born, or 25% born:  This always makes me laugh, without more information how is this impressive!.  In reality on its own this simply means they have retained 25 or 35% of what was born, for sale.  If from top 25%, then  based on what: that their still alive, which makes them better than the others or top 35% on SIL which means that they will be selling some awful rams that have good figures.  I don’t know anyone who is culling their best ones and selling their bottom 25%.   Personally I would be more impressed with someone selling 50% of their rams born, if when you go and look at them, they are impressive with good consistent figures, which would suggest to me such rams are more likely to pass on the characteristics and performance I am looking for because of the depth of quality in the stud.

We only retain ewe hoggets that get in lamb:  On the surface this sounds impressive, but you need to ask how long is the ram put out with them.  I, for instance, only put ram lambs out with them for 17/18 days and usually get around 60% in lamb, if I put them out for two rounds I am pretty confident a very high percentage would get in lamb.  I don’t, because I don’t want to lamb for months and I want to wean my hogget lambs the same time as the ewes.  Accordingly you need to ask more questions about this before determining whether this is something that is impressive and is of value to you. 

Sheep 50k and sheep 5K:  I don’t intend to go into the merits and economics of these genetic tests in this article, however please note the fact someone advertises that they have or are using such tests means nothing on its own.  If they have, then ask to see the results of these tests to see that they are using sires or selling rams that are coming up well on the traits and performance that you are looking to improve on in your flock.   The cynic in me is of the opinion that there are some breeders using science to market their rams as opposed to improving their genetics.  
There are a lot more things I could talk about but this is supposed to be an article not a book.