Sheep producers in Britain are being urged to fill in the national Sheep Breed Survey, which is out this week. Jointly funded by AHDB, QMS and HCC, the national Sheep Breed Survey is an important reference point for researchers, funders and policy makers. Those registered with British Wool will receive a postal copy, but all other sheep producers are being urged to take part in the survey and can acquire a copy online or by contacting AHDB directly.
Since records began in 1971, this essential piece of research has helped capture the trends and breeds of sheep production in Britain, as well as tracking their distribution and mating structure. The most recent survey, which was carried out in 2012, saw more than 100 different breeds represented and documented new breeds that were not previously recorded. It also highlighted the rise in popularity of crossbred ewes since 1971. Knowledge of breed makeup helps to project changes in future productivity as we look to become more efficient and adapt to the changing needs of the industry.
Knowing the distribution of breeds across Britain guides the industry’s genetic research. Although individual breed societies have information on the number of sheep registered, the survey is able to determine the total size of breed populations by including unregistered purebred animals. An understanding of flock size within a breed helps inform researchers about potential selection pressure that can be achieved through genetic selection, and identifies barriers and opportunities for genetic gain. The survey also provides an indication of genetic diversity and highlights breeding lines that may be lost to the industry.
Samuel Boon, AHDB’s Signet Breeding Manager, said: “The breed survey isn’t just a resource for those interested in genetics. Knowledge of the distribution of breeds across the UK helps inform us about wider issues influencing sheep health and welfare, nutritional requirements and their environmental impact. It also indicates the update of practices such as the retention of female replacements, breeding from ewe lambs or the use of EBVs in ram selection that will shape research, knowledge transfer and ultimately the industry in years to come.”
The industry is at the point of great change, and this research at such a pivotal time will provide a benchmark against which to assess this change. Results of the study will be made publicly available once they have been analysed and reported on in Spring 2021.