I have huge admiration for those farmers (or just people in general) who never seem to have any doubts when arriving at a decision.

By contrast, I constantly struggle to decide how to carry out almost any task and tend to weigh up about four options, before settling for option one, which I then worry was the wrong choice anyway.

My most recent indecision concerns rams, since some of mine are getting a bit long in the tooth and may need replaced next year. When I was a young fella, it used to be straightforward. You bought as dear a ewe as your budget would allow and a similar principle applied to purchasing a terminal sire.

Along the way, you perhaps consulted with your local ‘ministry man’ and he filled you in on the latest research from Hillsborough and ram performance centres, which left you in no doubt that those expensive ‘blue star’ tups would produce genetically superior offspring.

The resultant lambs would be of superior carcase quality and tended to grow faster, thus improving overall farm profitability and offering you the chance to stand tall and cocksure among your peers.

But down through the years that message has not only been diluted, but it has also been, to some extent, replaced with all sorts of composite breeding. Dare I ask where composite breeding stops and crossbreeding starts, before lapsing into mongrel breeding?

Rams in

This question of ram selection has been on my mind because mid-September saw the introduction of rams to my breeding ewes and the longevity of my sires has produced varying levels of satisfaction.

I have a pair of ageing Texels that are six and seven years old respectively and still going strong. Against that, one of my three-year-old rams has been fed concentrate since November last year just to keep him in the land of the living.

Against that, his mate (and half-brother) looks like he’ll last for years. But the thing that really makes me question the wisdom (or error) of my ways is when you bump into one of your farming friends who has been using a ‘Char-Tex’ or ‘Char-Belt’ or some such weird name.

Initially, you might find yourself sniggering behind your hand. Then you discover he was bought for about £300 and when you are shown the lambs out of him, they look twice as good as yours.

On returning home, with all your previously held beliefs clinging on by their toenails, one glance at that bag of bones (that cost nearly a grand) leaves your farming confidence in your boots.

Therefore, if anyone knows the answer to the following questions, please get in touch:

  • Has the swing towards recognised composite breeding resulted in an upswing in all sorts of unofficial crossbreeding lines?
  • Has the success of the Texel as a terminal sire been the reason for all the derivatives of that breed suddenly becoming popular (Dutch Spotted Texel, Blue Texel, Badger-faced Texel)?
  • Is there any sort of independent verification performance figures available for some of these tiny, muscle-bound breeds?
  • Does composite, or crossbreeding, of rams result in a healthier, longer-living terminal sire?
  • Are there still performance figures available to compare different breeds?
  • I am asking these simple questions for good reason. Next year I am likely to be going out and buying two or three new rams. And the last thing I want to do is spend a thousand quid a head on something that may or may not positively affect the net profit of this farm.

    I think it is time for a reassessment of what, exactly, we are aiming for when producing fat lambs and I’d love to see a massive study carried out to give the likes of me (and others) a bit of reassurance that we haven’t been barking up the wrong tree for years and years.

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