Understanding sheep genetics for industry gain

Technology to lift wool industry production

Sally Martin ... "One of the things I come across on a regular basis is if you don't have the fundamentals right the tools are a waste of time and money."

Sally Martin ... "One of the things I come across on a regular basis is if you don't have the fundamentals right the tools are a waste of time and money."


There are opportunities for wool growers to lift production using available technological advances


Following her recent address at the 2019 Hazeldean 'Best of rest' Merino ram sale on the use of DNA genomic testing to aid in the selection Merino rams, Sally Martin presented a paper to the final CRC conference held in Dubbo.

The principal of Young-based Sally Martin Consulting provides an extension service to the broader sheep and wool industry and is a strong advocate for the delivery of genomic technology to sheep and wool producers.

She spoke to the theme 'Implementing genetics from a breeders and consultants point of view'.

"One of the things I see in the industry from my perspective is that there are a number of tools out there that are often being used in an ad hoc way," Ms Martin said.

She said the project in which she is currently working grew from the initial focus on cheaper DNA testing and now involves a number of participants seeking to understand how the available tools can be used in a wider and strategic context in their businesses.

"Within the DNA Simulation Project we have a range of people involved, from commercial breeders who purchase rams or breed their own, dedicated ram breeders and also a number of service providers," Ms Martin said.

"One of the things I come across on a regular basis is if you don't have the fundamentals right the tools are a waste of time and money.

"So get your fundamentals right, have a clear breeding objective and get your data quality right."

The input of quality data is crucial according to Ms Martin if you as a breeder are going to use the data, along with visual traits, to get the maximum benefits when making your ram selections and how that will impact on your business for years to come.

"Most of the ram breeders involved in this project are going down the path to full DNA parentage, if they were not already collecting full pedigree in some form prior to the project commencing" she said.

"An other tool we are now able to use, now we have full pedigree is Matesel.

"Matesel helps allocate ewe and ram combinations to maximise genetic gain whilst managing inbreeding.

"We can use Matesel in conjunction with visual type allocations at joining."

Ms Martin said although there is a low genetic correlation between fat and eye muscle area and reproductive traits, it is noticeable those sheep with greater fat are performing better through the dry seasons.

"One thing we see with a lot of the wether trials is that when the ram source have focused on fat, the doability of the progeny through poor seasons is better," she said.

When discussing the benefits of DNA testing and how the breeding figures can be applied in the paddock, Ms Martin said.

"When you are selecting ewes or rams, you are looking at both their objective and physical traits, they also need to be fit for purpose and the environment where the enterprise is being run," she said.

"We want to be certain they will do the job in the different environments and meet your breeding objectives."

She said it was really important to know exactly where you wish to go with your flock and it was vital your ram source is also heading in the same direction.

"There is a genetic lag and you are following on the coattails of the stud" Ms Martin said.

"There are a range of factors which can affect the physical performance of the rams you have just bought and they need to be taken into consideration."

Factors like nutrition, the age of the dam, whether a single or twin and has there been a setback due to disease will all have an impact of the potential performance.

"They are some of the main things we need to account for at the ram breeding end to be able to deliver and show buyers the figures which will be of most use in making their ram selections easier," she said.

"What we do when generating breeding values is to account for those fixed affects."


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