Winner of 2014 Most Improved Flock Award
15th April 2014
Powerline flock wins Most Improved Flock Award for the Suffolk breed
The Powerline flock, owned by Andrea Gardner of Lancaster, has been recognised by EBLEX as the Most Improved Flock of Suffolk sheep in England for 2014.
The award is presented by the EBLEX Better Returns Programme (BRP) to the recorded flock that shows the greatest genetic gain for commercial characteristics over a 12-month period. There is a separate award for each of 10 UK breeds.
Andrea was born and raised on a farm. She is now a mother of two daughters (Jennifer (22) and Bethany (18)) and works full time at Myerscough College. Starting as farm secretary in 1993, she is now part of their Rural Business Centre, offering a Farm Business Advisory service. Not one to shy away from hard work, in addition to being mum, shepherd and full-time worker, she is now well into her first year studying for her MBA.
Starting small to establish the Powerline flock
In 2001, she took over the care of the pedigree Suffolk flock at Myerscough College, where she reduced the 35-ewe flock down to 20 ewes, based on looks and figures, and later secured some funding to enter into a sheep improvement programme with the flock. Synchronising ewes for an artificial insemination (AI) programme and careful selection of high-index semen had a dramatic effect with subsequent progeny and as a result she won the 2005 EBLEX Progressive Flock Award.
“This achievement was partly due to the good advice and guidance from the Premier Suffolk Breeders, where I was a member and latterly treasurer,” Andrea said.
“The use of semen from the Drinkstone flock had a great influence on the genetics of the college flock at that time and has today had that same influence for me.”
In 2007, having secured grazing agreements on a local dairy farm and with land attached to Kirkham Prison, she was able to set up her own flock of ewes. She has always appreciated the amount of meat on the carcase from a Suffolk lamb, so naturally she decided to establish her own Powerline Suffolk flock with foundation ewes purchased from the Perrinpit and Cairness flocks.
“Some of these foundation ewes did not have good Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs), but were pleasing to the eye,” Andrea explained.
“Over the years, with the help of using individual traits, I have added both muscle and growth to make some exceptional sheep which I am really pleased with!”
Later purchases from Laddygreen, Ortum, Chipping and Rugley completed the base flock of 30 breeding ewes.
Using high-index sires and artificial breeding programmes to improve genetics
Andrea uses AI as a cost-effective way to access proven sires to improve the genetics of her flock, hence avoiding the need to buy rams. Originally, she selected traits for growth rates and fat depths, now she focuses on muscle depth through selection of rams, regularly using eight or nine different rams in an AI programme.
Through careful ewe preparation and attention to detail with the synchronised breeding programme, she is achieving a 75 per cent conception rate from AI. This ensures the majority of her ewes lamb during the Christmas holidays, when she has time off from her full-time job, outside of that they are on their own!
Andrea believes using teaser rams and critical timekeeping for the insertion and removal of sponges helps to get the required result from the AI programme. She avoids handling the ewes for six weeks after the programme, so ensures all jobs are up to date with her ewes prior to insemination.
“By paying attention to the ram and ensuring high maternal traits, the Suffolk produces active, lively lambs. The ewes are good mums with plenty of milk,” Andrea said.
“I rarely lamb a ewe andcaesareans aren’t common. All of my performance-recorded ewes have been good mothers.”
Lambs are offered creep from a week old, being turned out when the season allows, usually by early February. After weaning, they are moved off creep and onto clean grazing. At this time retained lambs are identified, while the remainder are finished and sold as box-scheme lamb. By June, the focus is on getting ewes ready for AI and sorting them into tupping groups.
In 2012, she decided to super-ovulate and flush one of her best ewes, and was not disappointed. Her intention was to multiply the number of lambs from a ewe which had consistently bred well. The ewe’s maternal traits were off the scale, and all other traits were in the top one to five per cent of the Suffolk breed. Semen from Ortum Supersire 2005 was used, knowing this combination had proven results. Embryos were collected and transferred, producing six lambs. The ewe was put back to the ram and conceived triplets. Overall it was a very happy outcome, with many new females born in one year to join the base flock.
Using performance recording to encourage sales:
“Performance recording for me gave me my USP and the results speak for themselves,” Andrea explained.
“EBVs must have a meaning to a breeder. They are producing lambs to meet a specification and a tup with no figures is an unknown quantity.
“Producers breeding sheep that are not meeting specification are not maximising their output or their return. Sourcing recorded sires provides assurance to producers that, with the right traits for their commercial flocks and production systems, they can refine the economics and increase profit.
“There is no place for the commercial farmer to purchase big-boned, big-headed rams which melt away after purchase. I want to produce a sheep with, first and foremost, a nice meaty carcase and secondly, one which is pleasing to the eye in the field. I want to own something I feel proud of and I believe I can do that!”
She attends local shows such as Bury and Garthan show when possible. She also tries to support shows linked to society sales, such as Shrewsbury and occasionally Carlisle, seeing this as an opportunity to get her sheep noticed. She sells to other pedigree breeders and is building relations with local producers who provide her with repeat business.
Richard Tomlinson farms at Solwick, Preston, and produces Gracemire lamb from his early lambing flock of 300 North England Mules.
“I met Andrea at a local agricultural show and after visiting her flock at home was impressed,” he said.
“Since then I have been buying rams from her every year for four years.
“EBVs were new to me but Andrea was careful to explain an individual ram’s strengths and help to determine which rams would suit my production system.”
To date he is pleased with ram performance with his ewes.
“The Powerline rams are good, strong animals. They retain their condition well, are good on their feet and have longevity,” he said.
As well as selling lambs both liveweight and deadweight, he sells box-scheme lamb and attends local farmers’ markets with his produce, finishing all his own stock from 12 weeks of age with a target weight of 42kg and a 3L carcase.
Last year was the first time Andrea had surplus ewes and sold some in-lamb ewes through the Carlisle Society Sale and NWA Kendal. Looking ahead, she hopes to be able to continue supporting these sales with her females, either surplus ewe lambs or in-lamb ewes. In addition, she will continue to sell ram lambs direct from home and society sales. Her flock is MV-accredited and she is starting to focus on developing opportunities for the export market.
“The award is based on figures alone; however performance recording must be used in conjunction with style, correctness and proven genetics to keep a flock and a breed moving forward,” Andrea said.
“I am proud of my flock and believe the foundation provided from rams such as Drinkstone Supersire 2004 and Ortum Supersire 2005 (whose genetics link back to Drinkstone) has given me a firm foundation on which to build.
“The Park family have been great mentors over the years, offering sound advice and guidance.”
Commenting on the win, Signet Breeding Services Manager Sam Boon said:
“Rates of genetic improvement in Signet-recorded flocks are at an all-time high. The difference between the best, high-EBV breeding stock and average animals is increasing year on year.
“This means commercial producers have more to gain when investing in rams with superior genetics. Pedigree breeders can capitalise on these differences too and this is exactly what Andrea has done. The improvement in the genetic merit of her flock is clear and she is to be congratulated on her achievement.”
Andrea with some of her Powerline flock
Andrea with her daughters, Jennifer and Bethany
The Sheep Better Returns Programme (BRP) is funded by EBLEX and aims to help English sheep producers get better returns from their enterprises by improving their skills in five key areas:
EBLEX is the organisation for beef and lamb levy payers in England, and is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB). Find out more at www.eblex.org.uk.
For more information please contact Jo Biggs, in the EBLEX press office, on 024 7647 8836 or via firstname.lastname@example.org.