January 9, 2009

Sheep Farm Husbandry - Stud breeding

Sheep, husbandry, genetics, stud breeding, starting a stud

By Dr Clive Dalton

What to breed for?
When discussing breeding methods. we have assumed that we know what we want to breed for – our “breeding objectives”, and sheep geneticists can put you to sleep talking on this subject!

When you start to consider this question, it’s tempting to think you want to improve every trait you can think of. But remember this important genetic principle - “the more traits you select for, the slower is the rate of progress in any one of them.” So keep the job simple and reduce your wish-list to about three major “economic traits” that generate income.

Pedigree & performance information on pen at stud ram sale.
Faecal Egg Count & Facial Eczema information also shown.
What does it all mean? How can you find out?

How to start a stud
  • Contact the appropriate breed organisation to find out all you can about the breed to make sure the animals will suit your farming situation. Be aware of the difference between facts and promotional hype.
  • Ask the breed organisation for a list of breeders you can talk to, visit their farms and see what surplus stock they have for sale.
  • Watch your language here and don’t ask if they have any “culls” for sale; ask for stock “surplus to requirements”!
  • Farm servicing companies also have specialist stud stock agents who will source stock for you. Commission on stud stock is at least double that for commercial stock – and is paid by the vendor. Check to see if they may spring a “finding fee” on you.
  • Buy the best breeding females you can afford.
  • Ask the vendor why these animals are surplus to his/her needs – in other words find out if they are genuine animals surplus to requirements, or culls with health or reproductive problems.
  • A reputable breeder or agent will never sell you culls, and they will take any defective stock back or replace them. Genuine breeders are very proud of their reputation as breeding is a long-term business and they will be interested in your future business.
If you buy stud sheep at a sale, remember you'll be paying
nearly double the commission of commercial sales.
Check this out before you bid.

Other thoughts on stud breeding
  • Your main income as a stud breeder will come from selling rams, usually as 2-tooths.
  • Don’t expect to grow an automatic and immediate reputation as a stud breeder – even if you have purchased top animals from a noted stud.
  • You will have to serve your time in the business and should initially accept a role as a “multiplier” passing on the genes of the top stud to commercial breeders. Don’t think other stud breeders will buy from you until your worth as a breeder has been judged. This is as much about public relations as genetics.
  • Exhibiting your stock at shows is part of this reputation building – so be prepared for the expense, entertainment and frustration of that.
  • The aim of studs is to improve the breed, but you’ll need at least 100 ewes to be able to do any serious genetic improvement through selection and culling. The bigger the flock the better.
Some important basic genetics
Understanding the basic genetics behind what goes on in the sheep yards has always been difficult for many people to appreciate. The underlying mathematics seem to be the bit that makes it hard, and when you talk to people, their teachers didn’t help either! So try and understand it if you genuinely want to leave a better flock for your next generation.

Disclaimer This material is provided in good faith for information purposes only, and the author does not accept any liability to any person for actions taken as a result of the information or advice (or the use of such information or advice) provided in these pages.

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