Hill farmers in Wales have seen ample benefits after only a year of being part of a major research project that aims to boost the performance of pedigree sheep flocks.

In 2019 an additional 24 flocks joined Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC)’s Hill Ram Scheme, and now, having been performance recording their flocks for over a year, are starting to decipher their reports with support from the project staff.

The Hill Ram Scheme is designed to bring the latest technology to upland flocks in Wales with the aim of strengthening the Welsh sheep sector through long-term breeding improvement and smart use of data. Investing in breeding technology also has benefits for the environment, reducing emissions from agriculture.

Although it’s still early in the process the information provided as a result of performance recording has already provided data for the farmers to use when deciding on breeding strategies within the flock.

The flocks within the Scheme are geographically spread, covering the Preseli Mountains, Epynt Ranges, Snowdonia National Park and the hills of Powys and beyond.

One flock using performance records alongside traditional shepherding skills is Owen Pritchard who farms in Gwynedd. Owen farms a flock of north Wales Welsh mountain ewes and a herd of 30 suckler cows.

Owen explains, “After using performance recorded Welsh rams for some time, we decided to take advantage of the Hill Ram Scheme and the tissue sampling unit (TSU) technology available to take the step towards a fully performance recorded flock.

“We have a key focus on growth and muscle rates to improve the lamb carcases, but also keeping an eye on the ewe mature size.

“Our system is focused on having 45kg ewes that can thrive on the mountain in their natural habitat. When selecting our replacement stock, they’ve got to be structurally sound and healthy; and the extra information we have now means we can also remove any ewes that are below the flock average index.”

Sean Jeffreys, HCC programme officer works closely with Owen and other Hill Ram Scheme farmers.

He said: “Working with different breeds on different systems is essential to obtain a fair reflection of the industry in Wales. Hill flocks in Wales play a pivotal role in the stratified nature of our system. Genetic improvement in this crucial area will see benefits filter down throughout the sector.

“HCC is excited to be supporting these farms as they undergo the task of performance recording. The TSU technology enables those extensive outdoor systems to be able to monitor and review their flock performance.”