Hawke’s Bay farmer and Primera breeder Simon Beamish is welcoming latest research results using New Zealand sourced Focus Genetics bloodlines in UK flocks.
Beamish is a director of Rissington Breedline (RBL) which formed Focus Genetics in 2008 with Landcorp Farming.
A Marks and Spencer commissioned sustainable lamb trial used the genetics as part of the chain’s Plan A eco-ethical plan. This has the chain aiming to be the world’s most sustainable retailer by 2015.
The company aims to help improve farmer profitability while also providing a sustainable supply chain.
The trial saw typical UK Mule and Texel-Mule ewes compared with Highlander and Highlander-cross ewes, in turn mated to New Zealand and UK bred Primera rams.
The ewes’ productivity was studied from the paddock to the plate, recording lambing difficulties, labour requirements, processing details, through to a consumer assessment on taste.
The trial showed increased lamb output and production gains by switching from the Mule to Highlander ewes, and crossing with Primera genetics rather than traditional Texel rams. Faster growth rates and a higher proportion of high value cuts resulted, albeit with Primera sired lambs having greater fat cover.
Beamish said he found that result “interesting”, but the counter to it was the UK grading system that put an emphasis upon muscling.
“And once boned out the Primera carcase comes out on top with the most valuable cuts, coming out ahead of the British genetics.”
He noted the Primera was bred as an early finishing lamb, maturing early to 17-18kg as optimal, and UK lambs tended to be taken to heavier weights.
“In any genetic population we could select for heavier carcases with less fat cover. It is a tendency in the UK to finish a bit later at 19-22kg.”
Beamish said it was exciting to consider the prospects of using Kiwi genetics in the UK flock, an opportunity be believed would be good for the collective sheepmeat industry.
Marks and Spencer’s support of the trial underpinned the emphasis large outlets were placing on sustainability for a product chosen by consumers. They were generally high income, discerning customers consciously making decisions on a product’s source and environmental impact.
“We are hoping the trial results will strike a chord, not only with UK farmers but also with consumers, the genetics are part of the sustainable story.”
The trial results coincide with recent UN study which was headlined in the Daily Mail as “buy NZ lamb to save the planet”.
The study showed NZ lamb had a smaller carbon footprint than its British counterpart.
Beamish believes any genetic uptake may also have to go hand in hand with some management changes by UK farmers.
This includes lambing later to match feed demand to the spring pasture supply levels.
“With Primera genetics you have a faster growing animal, and you can afford to lamb later in the season with that.”
He believes similar to NZ, the decline in sheep numbers has left a smaller group of highly motivated, capable farmers in the UK, keen to seize on new ideas.
But he also believes building a market for the genetics will be a slow steady race, rather than a quick sprint.