East Anglian flockmaster wins breed award

Michael Pollitt, agricultural editorEast Anglian sheep farmer John Maxwell has won a top award for the most improved flock of pedigree Charollais.The award is presented to the performance recorded flock showing the most impressive improvement in genetic merit over a 12-month period.Michael Pollitt, agricultural editor

East Anglian sheep farmer John Maxwell has won a top award for the most improved flock of pedigree Charollais.

The award is presented to the performance recorded flock showing the most impressive improvement in genetic merit over a 12-month period.

Mr Maxwell, who farms at Fordham, near Ely, won the EBLEX most progressive flock award for the Charollais breed, based on Signet records and organised though the Sheep Better Returns Programme.

The 70-ewe flock is one of two pedigree flocks at Moor Farm; the other is owned by Mr Maxwell's daughter Gemma. The family has rented the 100ha farm for 20 years, which is currently half down to grassland and half to combinable crops.

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An original flock of 300 commercial ewes has been phased out and replaced as pedigree numbers have built up.

Based on sandy soils, the grass tends to burn up in summer, so chicory has been introduced into swards which, because it is deep rooted, keeps going through dry periods and provides a good pre-flushing feed.

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Stock rams follow a teaser and stay with the ewes for three weeks and usually 95pc hold to first service. Mr Maxwell's flock lambs in January - two months before his daughter's.

Lambs are offered creep and weaned at four months of age when the sexes are separated. Mr Maxwell prefers to sell them as shearlings as he believes they benefit from a store period.

Around 100 rams are sold to commercial producers each year and, as chairman for the National Sheep Association's eastern region ram sale at Melton Mowbray and Stoneleigh, Mr Maxwell strongly supports marketing progeny through markets and sales.

He also follows advice outlined by EBLEX and has an inspection team - all credible breeders in their own right - which gives every ram an MOT before the sale. This gives buyers added confidence and Mr Maxwell also encourages all vendors to display performance data on their pens.

"I do what I can to support the auction system," he said. "Producers from other parts of the country may come and look at the rams on my farm, but then I take the ones they like the look of to their local market and they buy them through the ring. My regulars around Melton Mowbray buy at the Melton sale.

"I firmly believe it is in all our long term interests to support our local auction marts. But it is also very important for commercial producers to get to know who they are buying from, and to build a relationship of trust with their supplier."

Performance recording is key, which he has been doing for two years. While it is too early to see any benefits from selling recorded animals yet, the feedback on individual performance has proved useful in his selection process. If it gives clear signals from customers that they are looking for figures to support their purchases, he and his daughter will consider recording both flocks.

"Having figures is starting to creep up customers' 'wish lists' - in particular individual Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for traits such as growth rates and scan statistics," he says.

When Mr Maxwell is looking for a new ram for his flock, he goes by eye first and uses figures as a back-up. Last year he used a ram from Charollais breeder Charles Sercombe who won the EBLEX award last year. This animal had very good performance figures and, admits John, may have contributed to him winning the award this year.

"Buying rams with known, superior EBVs, allows producers to produce an end-product that customers will pay more for, over a relatively short period of time," said EBLEX sheep breeding specialist Samuel Boon.

"I am glad that John is trialling performance recording in his flock. He already does an excellent job supplying the type of animal his customers want - but I still feel that having the figures will enhance his 'offer' still further in future years."

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