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Kelso Ram Sales:
What to buy?
Cultybraggan Farm, Comrie & Teviot Scientific,
Editor: LandCare Scotland and www.land-care.org.uk
Filed 14 Sept 03
The Kelso ram sale is an institution in itself
- the biggest sale of rams in Europe. The choice of rams on offer
is immense, both with regard to the range of breeds represented
but also within breeds. This year it was held on Friday 12th September.
Sellers and purchasers come from far and wide,
such is the reputation of the Scottish sheep industry. There are
too many urban-based specialists in economics and in environmental
issues who are all too willing to jump on the bandwagon of talking
down Scotland's sheep industry. If these armchair decriers actually
knew something about the industry and came to Kelso to see the quality
on offer, they might think differently.
Why did I go to Kelso?
My purpose of going to Kelso was to get my annual
replacement tups, and to get a picture of how things were in the
sheep world generally.
I wanted two tups out of the thousands on offer.
I reckoned I would stay with suffolk tups as to date they have served
Cultybraggan fine, although I do have a bit of an eye for texels.
But since the politicians have made such a mess of farming by introducing
massive uncertainty in the industry, this was no time to think of
long term projects with any confidence.
The situation regarding the Mid-term Common Agricultural
Policy review (MTCAPR) was nothing short of chaos. The Government
did not seem to manage to get adequate disease prevention schemes
up and running - such as preventing another outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth
Disease (FMD) from happening. The Government looked as though -
for all the inquiry reports - it was going to be very slow in adopting
any FMD vaccination policy.
Scrapie Resistant Status
The Government's scrapie prevention programme
was taking effect. Some breeds such as the suffolks had been genotyping
for years, while others were only now realising that they had better
get started. Having got going early at the game (admittedly from
a poor situation) the Suffolk breed has had time to breed for the
right scrapie resistant genoptypes while at the same time paying
attention to confirmation.
For breeds that had neglected scrapie resistant
genotyping, trying to achieve the appropriate level of genetic resistance
to scrapie and preserve confirmation was likely to be an uphill
job. Good confirmation would have to take second place to scrapie
resistance in order to comply with incoming regulations. But at
the end of the day the butcher wants good gigots and is not much
interested in whether or not the carcass came from a scrapie resistant
Suffolk shearling rams at Kelso,
Two from this pen came back to Cultybraggan
To enlarge image CLICK
For me it was going to be suffolks again. So I
went to see a fellow medic who makes a good job of rearing suffolk
tups, and whose shearlings have previously served me well.
An advantage of buying from the same place is
that it reduces the risk of importing disease. It makes the Cultybraggan
flock significantly closer to being a closed flock. To achieve a
closed flock proper (like Cultybraggan's closed herd of cattle)
the farm would have to breed its own replacements.
Also, being a return customer on more than one
occasion one is likely to be looked after by the breerder if anything
untoward should go wrong and he is unlikely to advise you to buy
a poor tup however well it is dressed up. After all he knows his
stock better than anyone.
When countless numbers of tups presented by numerous
breeders are all beautifully presented with their coats nicely groomed
to conceal any flaws, it is in fact the devil's own job to sort
the really good from the good and from the mediocre. It was interesting
to note how seldom the MLC's efforts to categorise genetic traits
in terms of confirmation were referred to anywhere at Kelso ram
Another potential purchaser checking out what's
To enlarge image
It is also necessary to sort out which tups on
offer have been bred "soft" on low ground with lots of
expensive cabbages etc - definitely not the situation at Cultybraggan
with its rolling hills, situated at the beginning of Glenartney
and not a cabbage in sight.
Clear information is provided in terms of
height of land where they were reared
when they were born
what prophylactic treatment they had received for worms and scab
details of individual scrapie genotypes
To enlarge image
There would be no difficulty in selecting scrapie
resistant grade R1 suffolk tups, as most suffolk tups on offer at
Kelso would be either grades R1 or 2. The auctioneer would clearly
state the genotpye status and it would be on the breeder's catalogue
and clearly displayed a the breeder's pen. Sadly this was far from
the case in relation to a number of other breeds.
So I bought two tups from the same breeder as
previously and probably had to pay a bit extra for them. They were
certainly well grown; they certainly had good bone formation; they
were certainly long with good backs; they did not appear to be overly
fat; and as far as I could tell had good gigots. Their reproductive
equipment was impressive, and their feet and legs were sound so
that they could use that equipment to good effect - lots of times.
Sale of a different flock in progress.
In my view this particular tup has good length,
but its back end does not look that impressive
To enlarge image
I also made my usual visit to the Blue-faced Leicester
marquee. They are important to me as Cultybraggan suffolk tups are
crossed with Scotch Mules, which are crosses between Blue-faced
Leicester tups and Scottish Blackie ewes. Frankly this is where
Not only is there little declaration about scrapie
resistance in these breeds - which would suggest that the situation
is not that good - but I can only shudder at the confirmation of
top Blue-faced Leicester tups. I am aware that that these tups are
used in order that Scotch Mule ewes will be good milk producers
- so essential for producing good offspring. But it does stretch
it a bit to be told that confirmation in the finished lamb will
come form the terminal sire. I do not think genetics actually works
that way however much one would like it to do so.
When it comes to buying replacement hogs (Scotch
Mule females of less than 1 year old) - on another day in another
place - one looks for as good confirmation as one can get. But where
in fact does it come from - perhaps the introduction somewhere of
something of another breed? But then are they going to be good milk-producers
and hopefully good mothers? Are they going to be hardy enough for
Cultybraggan type of land and weather?
Maybe next year, if the politicians in Brussels,
London and Edinburgh and a load of misguided environmental crusaders
have not combined to ruin Scottish sheep farming in the interim,
more thought should be given as to how Cultybraggan's flock should
Sutherland, Sandy (2003). Scrapie - a sheep breeder's view.
See TSE HOMEPAGE, filed October 2002, www.land-care.org.uk,
HERE TO VIEW
Editorial (2003). Scrapie statistics for Great Britain.
See TSE HOMEPAGE, filed 2002, www.land-care.org.uk, CLICK
HERE TO VIEW