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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Fat acts as insurance in tough times

Posted by Bestprac on Dec 05 2013

Press release Sheep CRC

Superior genetics for fat in sheep can be looked at as an “insurance policy” to protect against tough environmental conditions when managing pregnant ewes, according to The University of Adelaide researcher, Sam Walkom.

With the support of the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), Mr Walkom’s post-graduate study investigated the possibility of breeding an individual that can maintain condition better, in the tough times, through adaption of fat reserves.

Sam WalkomThe research indicated that genetically fatter ewes maintained higher levels of fat across the entire production cycle - with greater potential for maintaining condition during difficult conditions.

“Having sheep with superior genetics for fat storage gives producers more flexibility in their management, for example, being able to delay supplementary feeding because individuals will have more condition when entering tough times,” Mr Walkom said.
Operating as part of the Federal Department of Innovation Industry Science and Research’s CRC program, the Sheep CRC is a collaboration of industry, government and the commercial sector. It is working to increase the productivity and profitability of the industry through adoption of new technologies in both the meat and wool supply chains.

Each year the Sheep CRC supports a number of post-graduates, as part of its education and training program, with 12 students in this year’s group.

Mr Walkom is proof of the ongoing return on investment this delivers for industry – his study providing information valuable for producers who face less predictable seasonal conditions.

While the research has shown that management practices and feed availability are still paramount to maintain condition of pregnant ewes, Mr Walkom said having a genetic “edge” in fat can provide management benefits across a variety of breeds and environments.

“The research included Lambpro composites at Holbrook, the Maternal Central Progeny Test flocks at Cowra, Hamilton and Rutherglen, and a variety of Merino strains at Trangie,” Mr Walkom said.

“Across all breeds and sites our results were very similar, with differences in the genetics for weight, fat, muscle and condition remaining constant; meaning that ewes will maintain their genetic superiority for body composition traits during tough times, providing the potential to hold off supplementary feeding for longer.

“This is gives producers a better chance of getting more lambs on the ground in good condition and maintaining or improving their weaning rates.”

However, he said that the benefit of breeding sheep for increased fatness may be of limited value in areas that have high certainty in good feed conditions.

“In production systems where there is reliable pasture production, breeding programs can focus on traits that will have more impact on profit, such as growth and reproductive performance – it is therefore important that every producer should be selecting for fat that matches their particular management and production systems.

“While some fat can be good for reproductive performance it can reduce lean meat yield in meat production systems.”
Mr Walkom said that producers can improve body condition, in breeding ewes, by making selection based on their fat and muscle scans as young as at the time of post weaning measurement.

“There is a very strong correlation between young and older animals for fat, and this is the same for muscle and weight,” Mr Walkom said.

“For producers, this means that selection for improved condition score in the young breeding ewe can also be useful.”
 

Last changed: Dec 06 2013

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