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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

ASBVs turn Turkey Lane around

Posted by Bestprac on Aug 07 2013

CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation

This year come to the Bestprac National Forum to hear John Symons from Turkey Lane speak about his success with ASBVs. John and Jo adopted Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), and made some small changes to his management technique, to increase wool returns by over 400% over the last 13 years.

How ASBVs have delivered:

  • Combination of ASBVs and small management changes have increased wool flock returns by 400% over the last 13 years
  • 2012 profit sitting at $525 per hectare
  • A selection system based on ASBVs and indexes has transformed a 24 micron flock to a flock averaging 19 micron and producing rams in the top 1% of sires in the industry based on the Fibre Production + index

John and Jo SymonsThe Symons (pictured right) run ‘Turkey Lane’, a 530-hectare property located at Parndana. The property runs a commercial flock of around 6000 Merinos and receives an annual rainfall of 715mm.

But in 1999 the Symons operation was at a turning point - they needed to change the way they managed their farm or face an unviable future.

“We were doing it pretty tough. For a variety of reasons we owed a fair bit of money and banks were being pretty miserable. So, we had to do something different,” Mr Symons said.

They approached Greg Johnsson’s Agvet Services for advice, wondering if they should consider changing their ram source or turn to a dual-purpose breed.

Instead they became the model farm for the Kangaroo Island Sheep Production group, where best practice management techniques were implemented to demonstrate their impact to other growers in the region.

As a result the first critical change in the breeding program was setting a breeding objective that by 2006 the adult flock would have an average micron of 20 micron and maintain a cut of 50kg of greasy wool per hectare.

“There were plenty of people who told us that we wouldn’t be able to reduce micron and maintain the current wool cut,” Mr Johnsson said. “And those statements made us even more determined to show what could be done.”

However, the Symons held some biosecurity concerns about bringing in rams from external sources and potentially compromising the health of their flock. It was decided instead that they would start their own ram nucleus.

Emphasis was also placed on improving reproduction rate so that there would be more progeny to select from, which would increase selection pressure.

Using an index that is the equivalent to the MERINOSELECT Fibre Production index (FP+), which aims to decrease fibre diameter and maintain fleece weight, Turkey Lane has achieved a significant drop in micron whilst at the same time significantly increasing wool cut.

Gross income and total costs per hectare

When the genetic changes started to become apparent, the impact was massive for both fibre diameter and wool cut. This was despite all the management changes that in theory would negatively impact on wool cut per head,” Mr Johnsson said.

The gains observed were a combination of management and genetics and delivered a trend increase of 10% per year in greasy fleece weight per hectare. This is despite using an index that aims to only maintain fleece weight and is focussing predominately on reducing fibre diameter.

This increase in wool cut – based on the farms current trend level of wool value per kg (2012) – is worth $25,000 in extra income in this enterprise.

Average flock fibre diameter has declined from over 23 micron to around 19 micron since 1999. This change in fibre diameter has not come at the expense of production per DSE (which has been stable since 2000), indicating that these changes are genetic rather than from running ‘hunger-fine’ animals.

The end result has been a wool clip that is selling into the premium end of the market and attracting an additional $2.00 per kg in returns above what the flock might have achieved if the genetic change had tracked the national flock (as expressed by the EMI).

Across the 30-35,000 kg of wool sold per year, this translates into the Symons family earning an extra $60–70,000 per annum in wool sales.

“These improvements are also seen in wool flock income per hectare where returns have improved 400% in 13 years,” Mr Johnsson said. “The actual gross farm gate income that the Symons family received in 2012 was $925 per ha – or a gross margin of $525/ha.”

The income trend line for this property is increasing at such a rapid rate that there is a divergence away from the cost line, allowing greater profits and avoiding the cost price squeeze experienced by so many in the industry.

The estimated gross additional income from the management and genetic changes earned by the farm from wool and sheep sales has averaged $85-95,000 every year since 2009.

Mr JohnssonGenetic improvement is cumulative, so it’s there every year and most of it ends up as profit as it doesn’t cost you any more to run those more productive sheep,” Mr Johnsson (pictured right) said.

“And what we are finding now after 13 years of this program is that it’s getting harder to find industry sires that will perform better than those we are breeding at Turkey Lane.

“Turkey Lane is now ahead of the fine-to-medium industry wool average for fleece cut and fibre diameter, as well as making significant gains in staple strength, bodyweight and parasite resistance.”

  • The full ‘Turkey Lane’ case study, and more information on the use of ASBVs, is available at www.sheepcrc.com.au.

Last changed: Aug 08 2013

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