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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

ASBVs – Sprinting to Improve Performance

Posted by Bestprac on Jan 23 2012

By Liz Guerin
Regardless of the type of livestock enterprise you are involved in, achieving production and performance should be one of your main objectives. Whether it’s bales of wool, lambs weaned, live weight of animals – it is the interaction between the genetics and environment that adds up to performance and that’s what makes you money.

Key Points

  • Tools such as LAMBPLAN and MERINOSELECT can help to select appropriate sheep for the environment, system and target market with a clear focus on the traits that matter
  • LAMBPLAN and MERINOSELECT ASBVs should be balanced with visual selection
  • Manage your system on a per hectare basis, while watching genetics on a per head basis

Luke Stephen of MERINOSELECT likens the relationship between genetics and the environment as a 100 metre sprint... the slow ones still finish the race, they just don’t finish at the top end. He says that if you want to win the production race and take out the gold medal you need to initially select for the genetically better performers.

“In the 100 metres, the really quick runners out the front are the ones with the better genetics and in the production game it is these animals that we need to genetically select for” said Luke. “Combine that with good management and you are off to a flying start.”

But genetics are only half of the story with other ‘environmental’ factors such as feed, age of the animal, whether it is an early or late lamb, birth type (i.e. single or a twin), whether the mum is a mature ewe or a maiden and whether the animals has been subjected to disease or parasites all affecting performance.

“All these factors interact to influence how the animal looks – but they are not going to affect how it breeds” Luke said. “This is why it becomes so important to make an informed assessment based not only on visual means.”

Mr Stephen said that Sheep Genetics have products available that can take the ‘guesswork’ out of selecting for traits you cannot see.

Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) can assist breeders and producers make comparisons between animals and allow you to select the most appropriate animals that match your breeding objectives across a comprehensive range of commercial production and quality traits.

“Using ASBVs as a tool allows producers to see through the smoke and mirrors of visual assessment and enable you to better identify the better performing animals that are going to impact within your flock.”

Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) not only enable you to compare rams within a flock but also to compare rams across flocks and across breeds.

“ASBV information is a quality assured system collected by accredited technicians using reliable data, so we are making sure that the data that goes into our database is as accurate as possible and we do this using pedigree and performance information.”

Mr Stephens said that ASBVs still need to be balanced with visual selection to ensure that the right genetics are picked for the right environment “It is really important that we identify the animals that are going to work well in your environment structurally as well as genetically as these animals may not survive or perform as well as you hope.”

Depending on the type of operation, the types of traits you should be looking for will vary and will have an impact on the bottom line.

ASBVs are available for sheep production traits such as birthweight, weight, fat depth, eye muscle depth, wool weight, fibre diameter, reproduction, and worm egg count.

Mr Stephen said that selecting animals involves balancing several key traits and to make this easier, traits can be combined into a selection index.

“This basically means that several ASBVs for several traits are rolled into one single value which reflects the performance of the sheep relative to the breeding objective of the particular index” he said. “It is important that you look up what ASBVs make up that index because you can have two identically indexed animals that get there because they have a range of different breeding values and they might not be the breeding values that you are interested in.”

By selecting the ASBVs of traits which are impacting on the bottom line and putting money in the bank account, producers can not only gain an idea of how an animal will perform but if you can undoubtedly win the race.

ASBVs can be found on the sheep genetics website, www.sheepgenetics.org.au

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Last changed: Jan 23 2012

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