Meat & Livestock News

Dorset Sheep: Revolutionising Carcase Traits

TL;DR: Dorset sheep breeders have enhanced lamb carcass traits, leading to faster growth and higher market value, by adopting direct measures and genetic analysis.

For half a century, breeders of Poll Dorset and Dorset Horn sheep have aimed to increase the market value of their lambs. This goal has led to significant improvements in traits like milk production and lamb birth rates. However, their primary achievement has been in the enhancement of carcase characteristics through meticulous measurement of growth and muscle quality using ultrasound on their prime lambs.

Traditionally, the focus has been on indirect measures of desirable traits. Recently, breeders have adopted more direct measures, such as days to slaughter, carcass weight, and shape. Over the past year, this new method has been applied, analysing 7,000 records from Dorset lambs.

What do the results say?

Upcoming research funded by AHDB reveals the success of on-farm performance selection. Enhancements in breeding values have led to lambs reaching slaughter over a week sooner and with heavier carcases, without sacrificing carcase quality.

The impact?

The average Dorset-sired lamb now brings an additional £3 per head, with top sires offering a genetic premium of £6–7 per head.

Guidance for Ram Buyers

When selecting Dorset rams, look for high Estimated Breeding Values in Scan Weight and Muscle Depth to ensure speedy growth and premium carcase quality. Also, consider new breeding values for slaughter days and carcass shape to leverage the best genetic offerings of the Dorset breed.

These advancements not only highlight the breed’s potential for commercial success but also offer a roadmap for other breeders aiming to improve their stock’s marketability.