If you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else.
Updated: Dec 6, 2021
That saying is true for many things in life, and is mostly true in regards to genetics. I say mostly true because it is possible in some cases to have a win win scenario.
Breeders of rams concentrate on many selection factors. Thankfully breeding is not black and white. There are many grey areas. However, there is a tendency to choose faster growing, more muscle type rams because that is where the money is. Or so we hear.
There is a downside to choosing faster growing, bigger muscle type sheep. I look at the cattle industry in the USA and I shudder at the direction they have gone. I first went to the USA in 1989 and was shocked to see massive Angus cows. Huge. Then I was gobsmacked to hear the percentage of calves that have to be pulled out of the cow, and the costs to feed them. I won't get into the bollocks idea of them measuring cow profitability in cost per cow. They have bred cattle that have to be finished on grain to put on fat and marbling. Not all breeders, but it is the vast majority of the US cattle industry.
We all like the idea of feed efficient animals. It sounds like it is just what we want. ie be able to produce more kilos of meat per unit of feed. Now try to measure efficiency. That is not so easy. In fact, I still can't "see" a perfect method of accurately finding which animals are the most efficient ones.
Have a read of this article by Kit Pharo from Pharocattle. https://pharocattle.com/2019/12/feed-efficiency-how-we-got-it-all-wrong-2/
I like his philosophy a lot! However, we have had a few email exchanges in that I disagree with his "lower cost" ideas which I think go too far. But in many principles, he is spot on and I love his breeding philosophy. If you know of any hair sheep breeders in Australia that breed rams like Kit breeds bulls, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I want to meet them. I firmly believe that is the direction we need to be moving as an industry. It fits in very nicely with my skinny zebra analogy you will often hear me say.
Too many rams up for sale have negative values for fat, and any ram with a +1 to +4 in PEMD (depth of eye muscle) is usually receiving the highest bids. Breeders tell me there is a negative correlation in that higher eye muscle depth equals slower growth rates. I do see rams though that have impressive eye muscle depth, AND growth rates so it would seem there are cases when both traits can increase.
However, the loss of fat is a major problem with these genetics. Fat is needed not just to increase eating quality (you can shove your lean lamb down a dog's throat), but to provide resilience, and fertility increases when the ewe is laying down fat.
It is essential in my selection criteria for animals that have good fat levels combined with moderate growth rates and muscle. I'd prefer a +1 PFAT and 0 PEMD ram everyday compared to 0 PFAT and +4 PEMD ram. If a lamb cannot get to the right level of fat and eating quality unless it is finished on grain, then that is not the genetics I want. If you keep choosing faster growing, bigger muscle sheep, you end up with what Kit Pharo would call inefficient sheep. They will not be resilient. They will not get fat on dead grass. They will lose weight rapidly when times are tough.
It must always come back to meat/ha, profit/ha etc and not price per kilo. A moderate size frame ewe that produces twins every 7-8 months and will take on a fox and not go through a gate without her lambs is the type I want. Of course I also want excellent structure, excellent feet in wet conditions, and worm resistance, but the ewes and lambs must put on fat and muscle and ideally, not need finishing on grain to meet the markets desire for a nice eating meat. I know these ewes exist. I've seen them many times. It is the direction we will be aiming at on Caluka Farms.
A few photos to finish off.