Breeding to aid the commercial producer.
A Suffolk breeder for 30 years, Richard Garner firmly believes in performance recording. Angela Calvert met him.
Using proven genetics can deliver financial benefits to commercial sheep farmers, according to Richard Garner. The purpose of his Ortum Flock of pedigree Suffolks, established in 1978 when 10 females were brought to the family farm at Haltham, Horncastle, Lincolnshire, has always been to breed rams for commercial producers. “We are constantly striving to produce rams for commercial farmers who produce easy are lambs which finish quickly, without the need for a lot of hard feed,” he says. Since the 1980s, Mr Garner has been a fan of ultrasonic scanning as a part of performance recording and in 1994 joined the Suffolk Sire Reference Scheme (now Premier Suffolk Breeders) in order to make even more use of figures. In that first year, the Ortum Flock was ranked fourth out of 28 members. In 1996 Mr Garner was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship to research recording schemes in Australia and New Zealand. He says this ‘fantastic opportunity’ opened his eyes to new ideas and strengthened his conviction that figures worked. Subsequently, rams are rarely bought in and instead AI from four or five rams from the top one cent of the breed is used, alongside one or two home bred rams. At one point, the Ortum Flock reached 200 ewes with 100 rams sold a year, but restructuring of the family business saw ewe numbers reduce to 80-90, with the ones retained selected on performance figures. Now about 40 rams are sold a year. There is also a spring calving herd of Lincoln Red Cattle on the farm and about 300 acres of arable land growing sugar beet, oilseed rape and cereals, mainly malting barley and milling wheat.
All for Show
Farmers Guardian, November 14th 2008
Response to the article: 'Breeding to aid the commercial producer'.
Lambs Bred with 'head of a bullock'.
May I congratulate Mr Garner on his recent article on Suffolk Sheep, and FG for publishing it.
Mr Garner points out a lot of issues that should have been raised before and not confined to ‘mutterings’ from the ‘Old Guard’. We remember when the Suffolk sire was the king of prime lamb production – and also good to look at. Now it has, in many cases, the head of a bullock and legs of a mini Shire horse, and a much poorer back end.
Many years ago, I was asked, on a number of occasions, to judge the group of three at the East Anglian show. I remember well the super animals that were brought out by the flock masters and their shephards of the time. As time went by, we saw the champion stock of the East Anglian shows, taken to the Royal Show and, standing beside the huge animals from over the border (where did the wool on the legs come from?) they did not appear to stand a chance. Having hung over the rails at the Royal for more than 50 years, I have seen two breeds improved out of all recognition and two breeds go the other way.
My son-in-law and daughter built up a commercial flock of ewes needing eight rams (all Suffolks) and they were happy. Around 10 years ago, they got fed up of struggling to deliver big headed and long-legged lambs. Now they are using 12 rams, only one of which is a Suffolk. Please do not blame the Suffolk ram. Blame the breeders.
Hugh T. Clark
Farmers Guardian, Janurary 9th 2009