NZ sheep could help UK farmers

Last updated 10:53 06/12/2012

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Heavyweight British retailer Marks and Spencer is recommending British farmers buy New Zealand sheep genetics to improve their industry.

The retailer said its research shows New Zealand sheep could improve the efficiency and sustainability of the British sheep industry, because New Zealand sheep are more productive and have a smaller carbon footprint.

"For a number of years commercial volatility has seen increasing numbers of sheep producers leaving the industry in the UK," Marks and Spencer spokesman Steve McLean said. "Over the last seven years we have worked with Focus Genetics and a number of UK farmers to try to replicate their successful New Zealand lamb production model in the UK."

Marks and Spencer commissioned Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise to carry out research in a "sustainable lamb trial". The trial investigated the merits of using Highlander and Primera sheep breeds in British flocks to maximise value.

The trial compared a "typical" British production system, using Mule and Texel breeds, with flocks containing Highlander and Primera genetics. Performance was recorded during production and processing, followed by consumer taste panels.

The trial concluded that switching from Mule to Highlander ewes offered the opportunity to develop a more sustainable lamb supply chain, including through lower greenhouse gas emissions, McLean said. Processing efficiency and meat-eating quality were maintained. Replacing Texel rams with Primera rams resulted in faster growth rates and a higher proportion of high-value cuts, he said.

"We recognise that there are a large number of different production systems in the UK and this trial is simply about establishing baseline information to allow producers to make their own informed decisions on the production model that best suits their farm."

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