Choosing a stud
Choosing a stud is the most important decision for sheep breeders. The stud you choose should match your breeding objective, and preferably be in your area, as they are likely to have rams that have already adapted to the local environment.
Find a stud that matches your breeding objective
To improve your flock, it's important to clearly define your breeding objective (goal to improve your flock within a defined period of time) and choose a stud with the same breeding objective. It can be difficult to find a stud which allows you an increase in all areas of productivity, so you should focus on single breeding objectives to make gradual improvements, rather than improvements across the board.
To find a good match, look at a stud's target for future flock performance: how it aims to improve the traits of its own rams and how long it expects these improvements to take. Ask your stud to provide a ram of high quality in whichever area you are looking to increase productivity. Your supplier will be keen to provide the ram that best matches your own objectives, to ensure you return to them in the future.
Choose a stud carefully
If you consistently buy rams from the same stud, the genetic changes in your flock will follow that of the stud. For example, if the stud is reducing fibre diameter, the rate of reduction in the commercial flock will be in parallel with the stud's improvements. If you purchase rams from a stud that is not making progress or is going backwards, your flock will do the same.
If you are unsure of a particular stud's breeding objective, ask them. Reputable studs will have no hesitation in outlining their breeding objective. Make sure it can be defined in terms of measurable outcomes.
Begin your search for a suitable stud in your local area. Locally bred rams will have already adapted to the environment and will express appropriate genes.
Find out more about the influence of the environment when buying rams.
You will need to do research to find a stud that matches the production traits you want to improve. Some ways you can assess different studs include:
- Wether trials - randomly selected teams of wethers from different studs are run together and their performance is measured. Check to see if the stud or its clients have been active in wether trials, and what the results have been.
- Bloodline comparisons - wether trials where each bloodline is represented by several teams. Merino Bloodline Performance trials are a national series of linked wether trials.
- On farm trials - compare more than 1 stud through trial mating of rams to the ewes on your farm.
- Central Test Sire Evaluation - a national series of linked progeny tests to compare sires. Visit the Merino Superior Sires website to find out about linked progeny tests that compare sire.
- Sheep Genetics - the national genetic information and evaluation service for the meat and wool sectors of the sheep industry. Find out more on the Sheep Genetics website.
- Long-term performance of the stud's commercial flock – you will need to read at least 5 years of all fleece wool test certificates to eliminate environmental effects.
- Performance of client flocks - run under similar conditions to your own.
How the stud selects their rams
How the stud selects their rams is very important. You can find out more by asking the stud:
- how they select their worker rams
- how they use measured and visual information
- whether they use a selection index (an index of various selection criteria combining information on production)
- what the selection index contains.
Visual selection and objective selection
Visual selection should be used to remove sheep that have some physical fault, but a higher level of objective selection will lead to a greater gain in objective traits. Read more about choosing a grade of ram.
A stud should use a selection index based on their breeding objective to improve genetic progress. This will have flow on effects to commercial clients.
How the stud chose its sires
Ask to look at the list of rams from which the stud chose its sires. This should show you if the top performers were used based on objective information or the selection index value.
It's important to have confidence in the stud's management, and a good relationship with the stud master and classer. You must also be satisfied that you are being treated fairly and on an equal footing with the stud's other clients.
If you have cause for complaint let your stud know about it. Complaints might include:
- latest replacements not up to scratch
- flock wool type not improving
- high number of stags or black lambs.
Having settled on a stud, keep in contact with them and, preferably, select replacement rams yourself. Stud field days, ram displays and local shows are all good opportunities to talk to stud representatives, and to compare what each has to offer.
- Learn how to understand sheep genetics.
- Learn about managing rams for successful sheep breeding.
- Learn about managing ewes for successful sheep breeding.
- Find out about joining rams and ewes for successful sheep breeding.
- Access tools and learning modules on the Making More from Sheep website.