Sheep farming technology projects

Information on new and previous technology projects in relation to sheep farming.

Commercial lamb producers place confidence in figures

Amongst the many commercial lamb producers who attended the first Ulster Bank/NSA recorded ram sale in September, were Harold Truesdale and his son Niall, and brothers Henry and Martin Rice (all from near Castlewellan, County Down.

The sale was a new National Sheep Association venture supported by the “Profit from Performance” programme, developed for the sheep sector by Beef and Sheep Development Branch staff at CAFRE.

The sale provided a different and fresh approach to purchasing rams. The aim was to provide the commercial lamb producer with a choice of physically sound, high genetic merit rams. All the rams catalogued for the sale were fully performance recorded, including 8 and 20 week weights and ultrasonically scanned. All of them had a minimum of one EBV in the top 25 percent of the breed and were above breed average for Index. In addition, all the rams were inspected by a local vet for physical soundness.

Harold and Niall Truesdale

Harold and Niall Truesdale purchased a Texel ram with an index in the top 25 percent of the breed and growth traits in the top 10 percent. They were encouraged by assistance from Foyle Meats received through the Strangford Down Lamb Group. They had selected two rams with similar figures and managed to purchase the one they considered had the better conformation.

Niall, 10 wants to expand his pedigree sheep breeding interests and decided to purchase a ram with good breeding values and appearance.. In the past they had purchased rams, which according to Harold had been fed to look good but failed to produce quality lambs. He feels they will have a better chance with a recorded ram – the figures should rule out the influence of feeding prior to the sale.

Henry and Martin Rice

Henry and Martin Rice purchased the two highest indexed Suffolk rams at the sale. They are continually striving to improve the quality of the beef and lamb produced from their own farm resources. Encouraged by their positive experiences from purchasing a performance recorded Charolais bull through the Beef Quality Initiative, they have now purchased a second performance recorded bull and these two performance-recorded Suffolk rams.

They were keen to purchase rams to produce quick growing lambs with good conformation, so were particularly interested in 20-week weights and carcase traits.

All involved are looking forward to next spring when they will closely monitor the performance of the progeny from these specially selected recorded rams.

Profit from performance

Dr Steven Johnston, Senior Beef and Sheep Technologist, Greenmount Campus, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise and Edward Adamson, Secretary of the NSA (Northern Ireland Branch)

Working together 2 develop our sheep sector

In Northern Ireland the lines of communication between the pedigree and commercial sheep sector are changing. These are key within the lamb supply chain and must facilitate the two-way flow of information. About two years ago lamb producers, researchers and technologists from the sheep industry in Northern Ireland came together to start a development process. All involved accepted the need for continual change within the industry. This attitude is fundamental as it gives everyone the freedom to shape their own future. It is intended that clear and concise signals will be generated during the development process which will act as sign posts for the wider industry.

First step - 2 listen

Initially the local NSA branch joined forces with the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Hillsborough and Teagasc in the Republic of Ireland. Under the chairmanship of Dr Alistair Carson, AFBI, a working group was formed. Following discussions it was agreed to hold a conference entitled “Profit from your labour” at the Greenmount Campus, Antrim in May 2005. This conference was held in association with the British Society of Animal Science, the Irish Grassland Association and the Ulster Grassland Association. The aim was to examine opportunities for the sheep industry to improve current financial returns per labour unit. This was the first of Murray Rohloff’s engagements in the UK and his inspirational vision for the future of the sheep industry made all those who attended stop and think. 

Second step – 2 think

The conference not only raised awareness amongst leading sheep producers, advisers and researchers, it made everyone start to ask questions about their future business direction. In the new era of decoupled payments, livestock enterprises must show a profit without help from subsidies. Farmers, both pedigree and commercial, are now in the driving seat and it is the decisions they make which will determine the profitability of their sheep enterprise.

In the light of this the local NSA committee asked itself the question “What is the most cost effective way to increase profit on our sheep farms?” After some thought the answer was a resounding “Genetic Improvement”. This gave the local NSA committee the impetus to set about embedding performance recording into the N.I. sheep industry.

Third step – 2 demonstrate

The local NSA committee discussed a programme of activities with technologists at CAFRE, which would demonstrate performance recording in action. The “Profit from Performance” programme was developed. Its aim was to assist the adoption of performance data amongst commercial and pedigree sheep breeders through:

  • explanation of the use of Estimated Breeding Values
  • provision of evidence from research and technology projects on physical and financial efficiency gains to be obtained by selecting high genetic merit breeding stock
  • outline of the benefits of new technologies, including CT scanning and faecal egg counting
  • continued strengthening of industry links

The programme gained the support of AFBI, Ai Services (N.Ireland), the Livestock and Meat Commission (LMC) and the majority of local sheep breed clubs and lamb producer groups.

The programme involved:

  • Ai Services (N.Ireland) producing a breeders’ directory. This provided the contact details of all the flock owners of performance recording flocks in N.Ireland. The directory was forwarded to 12,000 N. Ireland beef and lamb producers courtesy of LMC
  • CAFRE provided educational workshops for nine local lamb producer groups and supported eight local breed clubs to stage farm walks to highlight the benefit of performance recording

Over 600 farmers attended the meetings and farm walks from January to August 2006. Dr Lewis McClinton, CAFRE, managed the events and supported the breeders with their displays. The typical preparation for a farm walk involved Lewis examining the performance information provided through the Signet Sheepbreeder Service and selecting several ewes and rams to demonstrate the use of carcase and maternal EBVs. The Blackface event provides a typical example of the information on display. Lewis selected three ewes of similar age, lambing date and suckling twins based on their Maternal EBV. The McCormick Brothers, Eamon and Phil, who hosted the event on their farm in the Glens of Antrim, then gathered the ewes and their lambs. Table 1 indicates the ewes’ maternal EBV and the weight of lambs reared by the ewe. This information demonstrated in spectacular fashion to those attending the efficiency gains to be obtained by selecting high genetic merit breeding stock.

Table 1. The information provided for three Blackface ewes on the McCormick farm in the Glens’ of Antrim
Ewe identification Maternal information
Maternal information
Breed benchmark
Total weight of lamb reared
by the ewe to 16 weeks
0104 1.34 Top 5% 47 kg
A68 0.65 Average 37 kg
C18 -0.30 Bottom 10% 30.5 kg

Fourth step – 2 support

The local NSA Committee agreed to organise a Multi-Breed Performance Recorded Ram Sale. This new venture provided a different and fresh approach to ram sales and the Ulster Bank agreed to be the main sponsors of the sale. Senior Agricultural Manager with the Ulster Bank, Cormac McKervey stated that ‘Farming as a business is increasingly reliant on good quality information on which to base investment decisions. The Performance Recorded Ram Sale removes much of the uncertainty in selecting a ram for the flock. All other enterprises have successfully adopted this technology and it is good to see the sheep sector become fully engaged in actively seeking to improve the selection process.’ In addition to the generous support from the Ulster Bank, several local meat processors and lamb groups provided financial incentives for lamb group members to purchase rams at the sale.

The Mission Statement for the sale was, “To provide the commercial lamb producer with a choice of physically sound, high genetic merit rams”
To achieve this, rams catalogued for the sale were fully performance recorded, including 8 and 20 week weights and ultrasonically scanned, had a minimum of one EBV in the top 25 percent of the breed and were above breed average for Index. In addition all the rams were inspected by a local private veterinary practitioner for physical soundness.

Following discussions with commercial lamb producers during the lamb producer group workshops it was decided to introduce a simplified approach to understanding the Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) and Index. A star approach was used to indicate the strengths of each trait within the breed. 5 stars = Top 5 percent, 4 stars = Top 10 percent, 3 stars = Top 25 percent, 2 stars = Top 50 percent, 1 star = Bottom 50 percent. Below is an example of the catalogue layout. The animal detailed was the top priced Charollais entry from local NSA branch vice- chairman, David Mawhinney and his wife Liz.

Lot 37 D+L Mawhinney
Ear Number: VV 6001 Breed: Charollais
DOB: 6-12-05
Sire:ZVY 4090 Genotype: ARR/ARR 

Maternal traits
Litter size
Maternal traits
Maternal ability
Growth traits
8 wk weight
Growth traits
20 wk weight 
Growth traits
Mature weight
Carcase traits
Muscle depth
Carcase traits
Fat depth
0.21 0.44 2.6 7.19 -0.74 3.88 1.16 351
*** ** ** *** * *** * ****

Trade was brisk at the sale held in Dungannon Farmers Mart. A crowded ringside saw the first ram into the ring make 480 gns and this set the trend for the rest of the sale. It was obvious that buyers had taken the lessons learnt from the ‘Profit from Performance’ programme on board as rams with good EBVs and Indices sold to a top of 880 gns. The highest indexed Charollais, Rouge de L’Ouest, Suffolk and Texel all made the highest price within their respective breeds. The overall clearance rate at the sale was 91 percent.

Survey information was collected from 46 sheep producers who attended the sale. The survey included both pedigree and commercial producers and indicated: -

  • 51 percent of those producers interested in purchasing a ram were focussing on terminal sire traits only, 17 percent on maternal traits only and 32 percent on both terminal and maternal traits.
  • 63 percent of producers were aware of the “Profit from Performance” programme
  • 87 percent of producers considered the catalogue layout to be excellent or good
  • 91 percent of producers considered the star system to explain the EBVs as excellent or good
  • 94 percent stated they would support a similar sale in the future 

With the encouragement of a successful sale where sheep sold because of their performance information rather than rosettes and the results of the survey indicating a demand for future similar sales the local NSA committee and CAFRE have decided to continue their efforts to embed performance recording into the N.I. sheep industry. Again this will require the support from many others within the industry and it is intended that pre-Christmas Step 1 will commence as we listen to the thoughts of both the vendors and purchasers at the sale. With 37 percent of those surveyed at the sale unaware of the “Profit from Performance” programme the show must go on.

Economic and physical performance of early lamb production

The LAMBS Initiative (Learning Advances in Management and Breeding with Suffolks) was a partnership between the Suffolk Sheep Society (NI Branch) and Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The five-year initiative launched in 1999, was designed to demonstrate new technology, assess ewe performance and determine early lamb production costs.

Dr Lewis McClinton, Sheep Technologist, Greenmount College.

Suffolk rams were selected with high Signet index scores and used over the two commercial flocks amounting, in total to 120 ewes - Suffolk Cheviots at Greenmount, and at Enniskillen, Rouge x Texel. In total five Suffolk rams were used, two sourced at Penrith, from the top 10 percent of recorded rams produced by Suffolk Sire Reference Scheme members and three from the top 10 percent of rams recorded within flocks in Northern Ireland.


Early lamb production requires a greater usage of concentrates to ensure lambs are ready for the higher priced Easter market. No benchmarking data is available for specific Early Lambing flocks as they are usually a part of other flocks that lamb later. Hence, the benchmarking data presented is for lowland sheep flocks.

  Cost (£) 2002/2003 benchmark top 25 percent
Ewe concentration 8.37 9.00
Lamb concentration 7.47  
Forage costs 12.19 7.00
Vet and medicine 8.54 4.00
Miscellaneous 1.42  
Total variable costs 37.98 20.00

NB Forage costs are calculated using the expenses incurred for fertiliser, sprays, silage covers and any reseeding. Liming is not included.

  Cost (£) Top 25 percent
Variable costs per lg lamb carcase 1.27 0.53
Direct costs per kg lamb carcase before subsidy* 1.55  
Direct costs per kg lamb carcase after subsidy* 1.09  

* Direct costs include variable and replacement costs

Benchmarking information for the Top 25 percent of lowland sheep flocks found variable costs for a 21 KG carcase weight to be 53p/kg and fixed costs 49p / KG. LAMBS initiative variable costs were higher due to the extra cost of AI in year 1, more reseeding than benchmarking farms, lower carcase weight, higher vet and med costs and lower lamb output per ewe. Overall Gross Margin (Sales – Variable costs) was £49.21/ewe in this project compared with £75/ewe for the Top 25 percent of lowland sheep flocks.

Average ewe performance in terms of the number of ewes lambing was lower than the target set. This is directly attributable to the poor conception rates experienced in Year 1 (66 percent). If this year was excluded the average number of ewes lambing in the first two cycles was 87 percent. Lambs born and reared were close to the target set but are still lower than the Top 25 percent of lowland sheep flocks.

  Target percentage Actual percentage Top 25 percent
Ewes lambing (two cylces) 85 81.5  
Lambs born/ewe in lamb 1.70 1.17  
Lambs reared/ewe in lamb 1.55 1.48 1.59


Growth rate Target Actual Top 25 percent
Birth to approx 6 wks 300 g / day 379 g / day  
Birth to slaughter 350 g / day 365 g / day  
Carcase weight 18 kg 20.5 kg 21 kg

Lambs grading

  • E, u & R at Fat Class 3 Target = 95 percent Actual = 80.25 percent
  • E, U & R Target = 100 percent Actual = 100 percent

Lamb growth rate exceeded the targets set by 26 percent (6 weeks growth) and by 4 percent (birth to slaughter). There was also a 14 percent higher carcase weight obtained than had been targeted for. This increase in carcase weight explains why there were 15.5 percent of lambs falling outside the target E, U and R carcase conformation target at fat class 3.

Output Cost (£) Top 25 percent
Lamb sales 78.77 85.00
Valuation 2.62  
Wool 1.91  
Sheep annual premium 14.02  

Total = £97.22, less Flock replacement £10.12

The higher return for the Top 25% of benchmark farms can be attributed to a higher carcase weight and also a higher return for lambs sold/ewe.

Slaughter lamb detail Measurement
Return per lamb £55.60
Average actual carcase weight 20.6 kg
Average days to slaughter 109 days
Conformation (E=5, P=1) 3.66
Fat class Class 3.03
Return / kg £2.71

Projects involving the use of sire reference scheme rams in CAFRE flocks have also demonstrated a financial benefit and agrees with the findings of ARINI that the progeny of top recorded rams grow quicker, finish sooner yielding heavier carcases for their age than the progeny of non-recorded rams and yield a financial benefit in excess of £1.50/lamb.

Students have been involved throughout this project in the flock management, collation of data and in marketing of produce. It is however unfortunate that there has been little interest shown by industry other than a group from the Suffolk sheep society. No farmer groups visited the project since its initiation.


The most important factors that influence the profitability of early lamb production are:

  • benchmarking and LMC data shows that the number of lambs reared was responsible for 79 percent of the extra benefit of excellent producers compared to poor producers. At the actual lambing proportion reared in this initiative £2.04 / KG was required to cover variable and fixed costs, excluding labour and conacre
  • lamb value is directly responsible for 11 percent of the extra benefit of excellent producers compared to poor producers. The Easter price peak cannot be missed if maximum profit is to be obtained. Average sale price of £3.50 / KG carcase is required by early lamb producers to place them in the same bracket as excellent producers with lowland sheep flocks
  • to maximise financial returns the best genetics available must be used. It would be beneficial to select rams with a negative fat EBV for early lamb production. Also the attributes of the ewe should include the ability to lamb out of season with large numbers of lambs


The College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) acknowledges the support and guidance provided by the Suffolk Sheep Society (Northern Ireland Branch) and Intervet (UK) in organising and co-ordinating this project. Thanks are also due to staff and students at both Greenmount and Enniskillen campuses that assisted in data collection and analysis.

Learning advances in management and breeding with Suffolks (LAMBS Initiative)

Early lambs

Kieran Mailey, Sheep Technologist, College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE), Greenmount Campus

The primary aim of an early lambing flock is to produce lamb at carcase weights of 18 to 20 KG for the Easter market, which is a time of seasonally high prices.

The LAMBS (Learning Advances in Management and Breeding with Suffolks) initiative was created as a partnership between the Suffolk Sheep Society and CAFRE, Greenmount and Enniskillen Campuses, and focuses on achieving this aim by:

determining the variable costs of producing lamb for the early market

  • assessing the ewe prolificacy and the growth rate and carcase quality of their progeny

The Suffolk Sheep Society provided four Suffolk rams for the scheme and their performance figures are shown in Table 1. Rams A and B were selected from the Sire Reference Scheme with Scheme Index values greater than the 2002 breed average of 235. Rams C and D were selected from recorded flocks in Northern Irelandand had lean indexes above the average index of 100.

Table 1. Signet performance of Suffolk rams
Ram Scan weight Muscle depth Fat depth Scheme index
A 9.77 4.7 -0.27 316
B 7.41 5.91 -0.05 284
Ram Scan weight Muscle depth Fat depth Lean index
A 2.85 1.16 -0.54 194
B 5.95 2.23 0.41 174

The early lambing flock at CAFRE consists of 40 Suffolk x Cheviot ewes at Greenmount and 50 Texel x Rouge ewes at Enniskillen. A summary of the physical and financial performance of the flock is shown in Table 2. 

Table 2. Physical and financial performance of the LAMBS flock
Physical indicators 2003 2002
Lamd sales / ewe (£) 83.18 77.88
Total output / ewe (£) 99.37 92.00
Total variable costs (£) 34.45 39.57
Gross margin / ewe (£) 64.92 52.43
Lambs weaned / ewe 1.36 1.20
Average carcase weight (kg) 21.10 20.88
Average price / kg (£) 3.29 2.79
Conformation (E=5, P=1) 3.65 3.60
Average fat class 3.30 3.05

Gross margins increased from 2002 by £12.49 per ewe to £64.92, and are £11.92 higher than the benchmark target of £53. Improved lamb prices, a greater number of lambs weaned per ewe and heavier carcases have contributed to a higher gross margin. The average price of lambs sold was £3.29 / KG, a rise of 41 p /kg on the previous year. Ewes were fed less concentrates this year, reducing the variable costs and consequently increasing the gross margin per ewe. The mild spring contributed to this reduction in variable costs, with good early grass growth reducing the concentrate requirement of the lactating ewe.

The physical performance of the flock improved from that of 2002, with the number of lambs weaned increasing to 1.36 lambs per ewe, although this figure is below the benchmark target of 1.55. Lamb growth rates of 0.42 KG / day from birth to 6 weeks, and 0.37 KG / day from birth to slaughter, highlighted the advantages of using a Suffolk sire to produce early lambs. This was further demonstrated with an average carcase weight of 21.1 KG produced in 107 days, allowing lambs to be finished in less than 4 months. The Suffolk sires are consistently producing quality lamb carcases, with 100 percent of lambs classifying as E, U and R at an average fat class of 3.3.

The project is demonstrating that high index Suffolk rams can deliver excellent performance and profitability in carefully managed early lambing systems.

For further information contact Dr Steven Johnston, Greenmount Campus on 028 9442 6748, or Florence Kennedy, Suffolk Sheep Society on 028 2588 0455.

Potential of May lambing in Northern Ireland sheep flocks

Project aims

Assess and develop the role of May lambing in Northern Ireland sheep flocks as a means of improving farm physical and financial performance, animal welfare and environmental good practice.


  • evaluation of productivity of May lambing flock
  • assess profitability of this enterprise


  • increase in part-time farming and increases in unit size mean that low labour input systems for sheep will be required. May lambing reduces labour requirements and improves welfare of lambs.

Technology transferred/system being developed

Lambing in May to ensure that lambing occurs between spring cultivations and silage making.

Methods used

  • ewes housed and fed silage only – reducing concentrate inputs
  • ewes turned out one month before lambing

Maximum grass demand coincides with maximum grass growth - reducing fertiliser inputs.

Potential benefits

  • spreads out labour requirements over the busy spring season
  • more ewes per person can be lambed as ewes are lambing outside
  • improved welfare of new born lambs given better weather conditions at lambing
  • supply of quality lamb when the general quality of lamb is falling

Blackface Sheep Improvement

Project Aims

  • demonstration of a breeding programme for Blackface sheep aimed at the production of carcases which will meet standards dictated by customers
  • improvements in conformation of cross-bred ewe lambs bred for lowland farms


  • development of a breeding programme for Blackface sheep geared to the production of 18-20 KG lamb carcases grading R3 or better
  • development of breeding systems for Blackface sheep which can give predictable carcase quality in pure bred and cross-bred offspring whilst retaining hardiness
  • evaluation of the benefits of using rams of high lean growth index bred by objective methods of selection


  • a study of grading results shows that a high percentage of Blackface carcases grade 03 or worse
  • the Blackface breed influences the quality of lowland ewes through the production of cross-bred ewe lambs purchased by lowland farms
  • there is a need to encourage a more objective approach to selection of breeding stock within the Blackface breed

Technology transferred/system being developed

  • the Lanark strain of Blackface as being suitable for improving conformation in the Blackface breed of sheep
  • ultra-sonic scanning and growth rate measurements as a means of selecting superior ewe lambs as flock replacements, and rams for commercial use

Methods used

  • an elite flock of Lanark-type ewes has been established at the Greenmount College Hill Farm. Ram lambs of high lean growth index, selected from this flock, have been placed on a number of hill farms across the Province
  • a breeding strategy is agreed with each farmer, tailored to suit his conditions
  • on each participating farm the physical performance of the sheep enterprise is monitored using a computerised recording package. It is envisaged that through co-operation with Farm Development Service, improvement of the Blackface stock will go hand in hand with improved competitiveness of farm businesses
  • ultra-sonic scanning is used to identify superior ewe lambs for use as replacements on farms. Lambs from Lanark-type rams placed on farms have been purchased from participating farmers together with a random selection of lambs produced by his own stock rams. These are graded at point of slaughter and the information used to assess the impact of the Lanark rams

Potential benefits

  • blackface sheep make a major contribution to the sheep industry in Northern Ireland. Improvement in the carcases produced, and in the conformation of cross-bred ewe lambs, will increase returns on hill farms and influence lamb quality at all levels

For further information contact Steven Johnston
Tel : 0289 9442 6748
Email :

Blackface Genetic Swap-Shop in the glens formed part of the project

A commitment to technology and co-operation is allowing five Blackface breeders from the Glens of Antrim in conjunction with CAFRE College, Greenmount Campus, to develop a selection policy, which should provide long term financial benefits.

To increase genetic progress, the breeders met in early November and agreed to share ram lambs and shearlings within the group. The sharing of genetics, will strengthen links between flocks and be extremely useful in the setting up of a Sire Referencing Scheme in 1999.

By Steven Johnston, Sheep technologist, Greenmount College

The benefits from sharing genetics:

  • lambs can be directly compared across the participating flocks
  • selection can be made from this larger pool of lambs
  • information on the performance of stock purchased from outside the group can be quantified and shared
  • the cost of introducing better genetics can be shared
  • increased confidence when purchasing stock from fellow group members
  • Each individual can still independently pursue their own selection goals

During the past two years participants have collected breeding and performance information on their flocks. This included parentage records, lambing details, liveweight at 8 and 20 weeks and ultrasonic scan depths for muscle and fat at 20 weeks. The information is then processed by the Signet Sheepbreeder service and Estimated Breeding Values (EBV’s) are calculated for seven major traits:

Direct (expressed by each animal) Maternal (expressed by females only)
8 week weight (kg) Prolificacy (no. of lambs born/reared
Scan weight Mothering ability (kg)
Muscle depth  
Fat depth  
Mature size (kg)  

The introduction of the seven traits has resulted in selection programmes, which will financially benefit both the terminal sire breeds and ewe breeds.

Ewe lamb selection

Blackface breeders can retain ewe lambs , which have good genetics for the important traits of, mothering ability, prolificacy, mature weight, and 8 week growth. To simplify selection a Maternal Index is produced, specifically tailored to the Blackface breed. The maternal index is a combination of those maternal traits which are considered economically important to the Blackface breed.

Ram lamb selection

The ram lambs can be selected on both the Maternal Index and the Lean Index, the latter being a combination of the traits influencing carcase quality. Each trait within both the Maternal and Lean Indexes is given an Estimated Breeding Values (EBV), so…..

What are EBV’s?

EBV’s are in the form of positive and negative values (e.g. the 8-week weight may be +0.8 or – 1.1), indicating the superiority or inferiority of the genes an animal possesses for each trait. The values are expressed relative to a common baseline value of zero for the breed and are expressed in the same units as the recorded traits (e.g. KG for liveweight).
EBV, s have allowed stock selection to move away from the feed them and weigh them approach, which led to the actual daily liveweight gains being published. This information was extremely misleading as the actual growth rate and weight was probably more a reflection on external factors such as when the lamb was born, whether it was a twin or single and how it had been managed, rather than its actual genetic ability.

For each trait the Signet Sheepbreeder recording system corrects for management and environmental factors, influencing the actual measurement recorded. It also includes the past performance of all the animal’s relatives. The corrected actual measurements are then combined with the past performance of the animal’s relatives to produce an individual figure for the animal known as an EBV.

EBV’s are a major step forward in breeding, as they supply information on an animals genetic ability, irrespective of how well it was fed, managed or the environment it comes from.

Why record?

Selection based on animal performance and breed characteristics should ensure a more competitive and profitable sheep industry benefiting the rural economy in Northern Ireland. The purpose of the breeding scheme is to produce prolific ewes with good mothering ability and fast-growing well muscled lambs, which finish in a carcase weight range desired by the market. In the long term this will reduce costs and increase the value of each kilogram of lamb carcase produced.

Potential of Cheviot sheep on hill farms in Northern Ireland

Project Aims

Assessment and development of the role of Cheviot sheep on upland farms in Northern Ireland.


  • evaluation of the productivity and carcase quality of Cheviot sheep in areas traditionally grazed by the Scottish Blackface
  • development of breeding programmes utilising the Cheviot, geared to improvements in lamb carcases from Less Favoured Areas


  • there is a need to monitor the productivity and profitability of Cheviots on areas of green, well-drained hill land
  • technology transferred/system being developed
  • breed substitution to utilise :
    • the mothering ability and hardiness of the Wicklow Cheviot
    • superior conformation of the North-Country Cheviot type

Methods used

  • measurement of weaning weights and assessment of carcase quality relative to Scottish Blackface
  • assess the value of cross-bred ewe lambs, for example Suffolk x Cheviot, on lowland areas
  • ultra-sonic scanning to select flock replacements
  • monitoring of the physical and financial performance of sheep flocks on participating farm using a computerised recording package

Potential benefits

Improvement in the quality of lamb carcases from upland farms.
Improved business competitiveness and profitability of upland sheep farming systems.

For further information contact

Agroforestry systems incorporating sheep and arable crops

Project Aims

Development and demonstration of agroforestry systems based on sheep production (silvopastoral) and arable crops (silvoarable) with the aim of increasing business competitiveness through integration of woodland enterprises into existing sheep or arable crop systems in Northern Ireland.


Establishment of a number of agroforestry demonstration sites on sheep and arable farms which can be utilised for physical and financial evaluation and demonstration purposes.


  • most of the timber used in the United Kingdom (approximately 80%) is imported. There is an opportunity for import substitution through growing quality timber in Northern Ireland, which is climatically ideal for timber production
  • the continuing downward pressure on sheep and arable crop enterprise margins indicates the need for alternative crops to boost farm returns. The integration of forestry and sheep, or arable crop, farming systems through agroforestry provides an appropriate method of introducing high quality woodland production onto Northern Ireland farms

Technology transferred/system being developed

DARDNI Science Service has carried out extensive research into agroforestry systems, and forms part of the United Kingdom Agroforestry Forum which links research sites located throughout the United Kingdom. Information on the species choice, grazing methods, weed control and establishment of agroforestry systems is now well researched and available for further development on commercial farm businesses.

Methods used

  • establishment of a number of demonstration sites which incorporate best practice as identified by DANI research
  • evaluation of physical and financial performance of agroforestry systems on commercial farms
  • demonstration events to promote agroforestry systems

Potential benefits

  • improved business competitiveness with sheep and arable enterprises through integration with forestry
  • an increase in product diversification on farms and the production of high quality timber suitable for sale in Northern Ireland, leading to import substitution
  • wildlife and landscape benefits will accrue from the increase in afforested areas, particularly deciduous woodland



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