Commercial sheep breeders lead the way with DNA

DNW Stimulation Project aims to increase index points


Wool
Sheep project aims to lift indexes and give producers an edge.

Sheep project aims to lift indexes and give producers an edge.

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MerinoLink and University of New England will undertake a DNA Stimulation Project aimed at increasing the index points of 29 stud ram flocks and 65 commercial breeders in NSW.

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THE long-held assumption that commercial producers lag behind their stud stock counterparts in the genetic livestock game could soon be myths with plans to double woolgrower’s genetic gains by 2020.

MerinoLink have teamed with the University of New England to undertake a DNA Stimulation Project aimed at increasing the index points of 29 stud ram flocks and 65 commercial breeders in New South Wales.

The producers commit half of the finances of their involvement in the project, to gather DNA and genomic data of their flocks and ram purchases including the 15k sheep test, using genotyping to predict commercial traits such as adult wool weights and eating quality.

A Flock Profile test, which takes blood cards or tissue samples of DNA from 20 random sheep, is also being investigated as a potential benchmarking system for future progress.

MerinoLink CEO Sally Martin said the project was as much about increasing woolgrower’s adoption of a genetic system as it was improving the accuracy of ASBVs.

The project means some commercial breeders would boost their own potential to breed rams, but it could only be a benefit to stud producers too, Ms Martin said. 

“I think there is just as much pressure (on stud breeders) now as there was before but I think we are utilising the tools better to make those well informed decisions,” she said.

“We can actually say if we are joining these animals now we are going to know what the outcome of that joining is before the rams even go out.

“We have got the capacity to do it now, it’s people having confidence in the system and confidence in utilising the information. I’m very confident this system works.”

The collated data, tracing back some years, will be submitted to Sheep Genetics.

“We have got to get away from ad hoc decisions and really look at the whole farm and what is going to be the best fit,” Ms Martin said. 

She said ram breeders had been tasked with improving their index points annually.

“What that then equates to is dollars back on farm so we are looking at the genetics transferring back to representing extra profit on farm,” she said.

“You can still increase profit of course through increasing productivity and nutrition, we are just looking at that genetic side.” 

The project has also provided producers with a support network about genetic technologies, something Ms Martin said was lacking in the industry.

“We can’t all know all of the answers and be good at knowing everything but having a really good support service and network within our industry to help implement a lot of these tools I think is critical," she said.

“Especially with the department of agriculture reducing the number of extension officers, we just don’t have that capacity anymore.”

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