Sheep farming in Australia is set to evolve rapidly after the success of the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep’s (CRC) DNA Flock Profiler Test.
The CRC Australia’s Flock Profiler was introduced to give farmers more insight into Merino flock genetics and enable them to be smarter when selecting rams for breeding to boost flock production in meat and wool quality.
In the Peter Westblade Merino Memorial Challenge (PWMMC) the DNA Flock Profiler Test was used to determine if average genomic breeding values were able to be calculated on a Merino sheep flock, even if relationships to the reference population were distant or even unknown.
Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs)
Before the introduction of the Flock Profiler, genetic merit was purely based on Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs). These ASBVs include birth weight, fat depth, growth rate, eye muscle depth, wool weight and fibre diameter and worm egg count. Unfortunately as many sheep farmers don’t record the ASBVs on their flocks in detail, being able to determine which had more beneficial traits for long-term breeding potential was often difficult.
DNA Flock Profiler
What makes the DNA Flock Profiler so innovative is it applies genomic breeding values and then correlates these to the ASBVs. This allows farmers to discover the genetic merit of their flock by isolating DNA links with animals that are recorded for their ASBVs in the Information Nucleus Database.
The PWMMC Test involved the genetic evaluation of teams of Merino wethers over a two year period, measuring the wool and meat quality, as well as growth traits. For the Meat Challenge measurements were taken of commercial carcass and meat traits while under feedlot conditions whereas the Wool Challenge ran the teams of wethers on pasture.
The Challenge was developed to assist farmers with Merino breeding operations, enabling them to be able to make better informed decisions on the genetics of their Merino flocks and reveal the breeding opportunities which are available to make their flocks more profitable.
Craig Wilson and Associates and Sally Martin Consulting were involved in overseeing the PWMMC sample trial which was run in the Riverina region of NSW.
The PWMMC Test revealed some crucial genetic differences in wool and meat traits. Craig Wilson of Craig Wilson and Associates was interviewed by The Land about the trial results. He said, “Consistently on the wool side we’re seeing an 80 per cent difference in net profit between the top and bottom teams, and on the meat side we see differences of 30-40 per cent in carcass value. And we’re also seeing in the feedlot a massive variation in weight gain, so when the average is 220g/day, the top 10 per cent are doing 400g/day which is quite extraordinary.”
Also in an interview with The Land Sally Martin, director of Sally Martin Consulting, discussed the importance of the trial results. She said, “The Merino industry now has another tool to benchmark our progress and help make more informed genetic selection decisions.”
What the PWMMC Test means for Merino farmers
Results from the PWMMC sample trial have indicated that it may not be financially viable for farmers to invest in areas such as pasture improvements, if the genetics don’t support this.
Mr Wilson said, “The critical thing is for people to understand what’s limiting their profitability. So for some people it could be their genetics, it could be their management, it could be the pasture that they eat.”
RamSelect Plus App
In conjunction with the DNA Flock Profiler, the recent introduction of the RamSelect Plus App has given sheep farmers the tools for rapid genetic advancement. The RamSelect Plus App allows in-depth genetic selection when it comes to purchasing rams. It also provides farmers with detailed information on their rams genetics and traits that can be introduced into their breeding lines or bred out for better production results.
In relation to the importance of the the RamSelect Plus App in genetic selection Mr Wilson said, “This sort of information highlights what the strength and weaknesses are of your genetics – it’s going to be quite evident to people that there’s an upside for them to put some more fleece weight on their sheep or to reduce their fibre diameter or to improve their growth. It just gives them so much more power when they go to buy their rams.”
The Flock Profile Test and the RamSelect Plus App are looking to revolutionise Merino flock production and operation profitability. An advocate for these advancements in Merino genetic selection Sheep CRC researcher Dr Tom Granleese recently said in an interview with The Land, “Results from the Flock Profile Test can be used for several purposes. First to track how a producer’s flock genetically compares to animals in MerinoSelect; second, to identify genetic strengths and deficiencies in a producer’s flock for key Merino traits and indexes; and third, to identify rams on RamSelect.com.au carrying the ASBVs that will improve the genetic profile of their flock.”
While it’s still early days, it appears that there is a far more sustainable economic future available for Merino farmers and breeders who embrace these industry innovations.