Top €urostar rams are making sheep farmers up to €2 extra per lamb, according to the latest results from Sheep Ireland.
Lambs from five-star rams are, on average, weighing 4kg heavier than those from one-star counterparts, according to data from progeny testing trials on more than 20 different flocks around the country.
Teagasc researcher Dr Noirin McHugh said that these lambs would reach slaughter nine days earlier, which, in a wet year like this one, could be worth up to €2 extra per lamb.
"We estimate that it costs about 12c a day to graze lambs, but this could be over 20c a day if meals are being fed," said Ms McHugh.
"It may not sound like much but if the ram is used for three breeding seasons on a flock of 100 ewes, it adds up to over €700."
The next challenge for Sheep Ireland is to get more farmers scoring their rams to increase the accuracy of the star ratings.
There are an estimated 70,000 rams in service on Irish farms, but as little as 10pc have a €urostar rating.
Farmers have been slow to adopt the technology largely because of the low reliability of the scores, with many struggling to secure a reliability of more than 20pc.
However, the ratings are gradually gaining acceptance by breed societies. For the first time, Suffolk breeders included star ratings in their catalogue at their recent Roscrea sale.
The index is based on three main criteria: production traits, such as days to slaughter; maternal traits, such as milkiness, and ease of lambing.
A new trait measuring health issues such as foot rot and parasite resistance is due to be added to the index.
However, its inclusion is dependent on Sheep Ireland receiving data on lameness and worms from a minimum of 1,000 ewes.
"While the participation in the Lamb Plus scheme has jumped by 40pc over the last 12 months, we still have only 250 flocks registered," said Ms McHugh.
She urged more sheep farmers to sign up for the scheme, which costs €50/year. In return for recording and submitting breeding and performance data on their flock, participating farmers receive €urostar ratings for all their stock.
"This is a powerful selection tool for improving the breeding in any farmer's flock," concluded Ms McHugh.
- Darragh McCullough
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