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Emily King
Manager, Woolgrower Education & Capacity Building
ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Superior genes for super sheep

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 05 2012

Sheep CRC


In his drive to breed a modern sheep for the modern world, where labour is hard to get and minimal maintenance is the new rule, Mitchell merino breeder, Errol Brumpton OAM, thinks its high time ram buyers started making greater use of genetic selection tools.

He maintains that as Queensland’s extreme hot, humid environment and low protein pastures dictate how much wool and how many lambs a sheep can produce, genetics is a key for optimising production.

The Well Gully Poll Merino principal says now more than ever, sheep need to be fast-maturing with superior carcases and wool to make lightweight, next-to-skin fabrics.

“When selecting and buying rams, subjective appraisal for conformation such as large barrel is very important, but crucial traits can be built-in with certainty by using ASBVs.

“These include the invisible genes for feed conversion and high lamb survival to develop the ‘all-purpose sheep’ – accessed through yearling weight, yearling fat, muscling, numbers of lambs weaned, worm egg counts and post-weaning weight breeding values.

“These are powerful genes that can be used to target the core weaknesses of a flock for further commercial gain. They’re also cumulative, lasting and relatively cheap.”

Recently honoured with an Order of Australia Medal for his services to the Merino wool industry, Errol says the sheep is an incredible animal and its real value will again be realised as the world’s population increases and shortages of protein and fibre loom.

The Well Gully Poll Merino flock is not a closed flock and never will be, according to Errol.

“We’re always looking for trait leaders and superior genes that will excel, especially in worm resistance, eye muscle depth and intramuscular fat– which all contribute to constitution and lamb survival.

“It’s important to monitor the Sheep Genetics website to keep tabs on what superior animals are coming through and the Sheep CRC website to keep up with science and the new breeding and management tools.”

He says real gains can be made, and quickly.

“A lot of our northern clients in the Longreach, Muttaburra and Hughendon regions had wool clips in the 22-23 micron range in the 1990’s; within three years we fined them down to 20 microns, and now they have more bales than before of wool less than 19 microns.

“However, at the same time, by scanning stud rams for positive fatness, muscling and early growth rates we’ve been able to inject these genes into these flocks. Subsequently, lamb survival and flock constitution have shot up.”

Many central Queensland sheep properties are now setting up ‘breeding battery’ flocks featuring higher lambing rates and better carcase traits to capitalise on the current demand for lamb. By turning-off the wether lamb portion to specialist finishers instead of retaining them as woolcutters, Errol notes that this ‘releases’ feed to help join ewes at younger ages, and run and sell more ewes. It also introduces more flexibility into the farm business.

“In our Central Queensland unique environment we need to be adaptive thinkers.”

“We’ve developed sheep resistant to flystrike and fleece rot; we’ve responded to the market demand for finer, better processing wools; and we’re moving towards measuring wool cuts on the basis of 10-12% of body weight, rather than kg/head, to ensure ewes have enough reserves to rear lambs year-in and year-out on low protein sub-tropical grasses.”

“But there’s a lot more we can all do - and I think it’s high time that more people placed more emphasis on using ASBVs when selecting rams. They’re a wonderful tool for making faster, lasting gains in flock productivity and enterprise profit.”

The Sheep CRC, through its world-first Information Nucleus program, and its work to evaluate the use of Genomics for the Australian sheep industry, is helping to accelerate productivity gains.

The Information Nucleus consists of a series of flocks totalling 5,000 ewes, located at eight research sites in widely differing environments around Australia. Each year, these ewes will produce progeny by 100 young and proven Merino, maternal and terminal sires.

The progeny are extensively measured and assessed for current and new hard-to-measure traits in meat and wool quality, parasite resistance and reproduction.
This information is being used to:

  • Enhance the accuracy of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for current traits
  • Contribute to the development of ASBVs for new traits
  • Validate the use of Genomics (DNA-based genotyping) for current and new traits
  • Develop breeding values that combine phenotypic and Genomic information

Producers will be able to use the developments in new genetic technology and genomic information to advance their breeding objectives and achieve more rapid and targeted genetic gain.

Fast facts: Well Gully Poll Merinos

  • Flock number 1106 est. 1974
  • 2,400 ha located north of Mitchell in SW Queensland
  • Average annual rainfall – 21”; near 63” recorded over last 12 months
  • 2,500 registered stud ewes, of which 1200-1400 are in an AI program each year
  • Adult stud flock micron – 18.2
  • Well Gully has had mules-free sheep for 5 years
  • Offer 700 sale rams per year, which have been sold to all sheep-regions of Australia

More information: Sheep CRC INFORMATION NUCLEUS


Last changed: Feb 06 2012



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