Using farm and abattoir data to improve genetic evaluations of peformance recorded rams

Project number:                             6120005009

Lead contractor:                            AHDB

Partner:                                          Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd

Start and end dates:                      01 April 2015 – 31 December 2017


The Problem:

Combined breed analysis (CBA) was debated at Sheep Breeders Round Table in November 2013 and it was agreed that it was a target for the UK sheep industry.  This would mean that terminal sires would be analysed using the same baselines so estimated breeding values (EBV) for different breeds could be compared directly.  AHDB Beef & Lamb have been in discussion with EGENES to see if existing data from some ram breeding flocks using different breeds and cross-breeds can be used to establish CBA.

It is proposed that a central progeny test (CPT) would be useful to helping to validate the CBA work, as commercial progeny data from different breeds of rams being used on the same farm would be extremely useful.

The review of genetic improvement of beef and sheep in the UK suggest that one of the recommendations will be the establishment of a CPT.  As it has been shown in other countries that CPT help to improve genetic gains.


Aims and Objectives:

  • To collect and collate data from over 6,000 lambs, sired by high genetic merit rams from the main terminal breeds, from several commercial farms and abattoirs
  • To collate and include data from a variety of sources – written records, electronic identification (EID) systems, software programs, abattoirs – in current breeding evaluations
  • To use commercial data to improve the development of the CBA
  • To investigate the relationship between on-farm measurements of performance (growth rate, ultrasound scanning of muscle and fat depth) and industry measures of economic value (carcase weight, days to slaughter, carcase conformation and fat class)
  • To explore if the genetic ranking of rams reared on intensive diets is similar when progeny are reared under forage-based commercial conditions
  • To examine how the performance of progeny of different terminal sire breeds compares under commercial conditions
  • To test the feasibility of running a CPT



A partnership of levy boards (AHDB Beef & Lamb, HCC, QMS and AgriSearch), EGENES, Evidence-based Veterinary Consultancy, Randall Parker, Dunbia, Elanco, Allflex, Shearwell, Premium Sheep and Goat Health Scheme and Sainsbury’s will be developed.

Six commercial flocks will be selected based on robust criteria and recruited for two breeding seasons (tupping 2015 and 2016).

Rams with top 20% EBVs for growth and carcase traits will be identified from Texel, Suffolk, Charollais, Meatlinc and Hampshire Down breeds by Signet Breeding Services.

120 ewes per farm will be artificial inseminated to AI sires that will be rotated across farms and years to create linkage.  200 ewes will be mated in single sire groups to five rams.

EID will be used to identify the ewes and lambs would need to be tagged and recorded at birth.  Performance records would include live and dead lambs, birth weight, lambing ease, eight week weight, 90 day weight and sale weight.

Slaughter date, carcase weight and classification would be collected and assigned to EID tags.  Additional carcase information in the form of VIA scanning, saleable meat yield and tenderness measurements would be collected on a proportion of carcases.

After year 1, a quick comparison of ram performance will be produced and discussed within a technical working group, but these results will not be released to the industry.

After year 2, a full genetic analysis will be undertaken and results will be presented in the form of tables showing the top 25 rams for Eight week weight EBV, Scan weight EBV, Muscle depth EBV and Fat depth EBV.  This will mean, for the first time, rams of different breeds can be compared directly.  The project would provide data to allow future development on new EBVs for days to slaughter and carcase weight.