Do you have a written, clear and concise breeding objective for the Merino flock on your farm?
That was the question posed by Dr Jason Trompf, sheep consultant and educator when he was addressing those who were watching the Empowering your Merino enterprise webinar hosted by the Pooginook Merino stud, Coleambally.
By inference, he was also pointing the question at every breeder of Merino sheep in Australia.
According to Dr Trompf, with high prices paid for rams and the values of breeding ewes at an extraordinary level, it is essential for commercial Merino breeders to have a defined breeding objective.
"You have to be purchasing the right rams and culling those ewes which are not fit for purpose," he said.
"Having a clear and concise written breeding objective is an absolute imperative."
That is the starting point for producers when determining where the direction of their flock.
But, Dr Trompf noted from the almost 5000 sheep producers who have attended the Bred Well Fed Well workshops, only about 10 per cent of the commercial breeders had a written breeding objective.
Every sheep producer is buying rams, but he said not everyone has a plan.
"Before we really sit down and set that objective, we must think about what will inform your breeding direction," he said.
"Every time I ask a farmer what he wants, the answer is always - 'I want more'. "But before you volunteer what you would really like, you have to take a stocktake on where you are at."
And the big question to ask yourselves is - "how are my animals functioning in my environment?"
Dr Trompf said that enquiry must be first and foremost before a plan can be formulated.
"We use that as the launching pad to help set goals as well as some of the more quantitative measures such as flock profiling which is a great tool available to Merino breeders," he said.
Commercial Merino breeders will recognise it is obviously difficult to set a game plan overnight, but Dr Trompf pointed out a start can be made by conducting an on-farm audit.
An audit is where you really understand how your animal is functioning in your environment.
"Ultimately, for the animal to be fit for purpose, it has to be fit for the farm and fit for the market," Dr Trompf said.
"But the step most people jump past is doing that fitness audit in the first place."
Dr Trompf posed the following question to show sheep breeders what he is referring to.
"How is the current population of animals under your current management regime flourishing, or not, against the definition of fitness" he queried.
If fitness is defined as the ability to survive, grow and reproduce in your particular environment, Dr Trompf challenged breeders to compare flock to the national average for the following key measures of fitness?
What are your lamb survival rates between scanning and marking?
And if they are greater than the national average rate of 70 percent survival, then Dr Trompf pointed out that outcome may be a real strength for your enterprise.
Conversely if your lamb survival rate is less than 70pc between scanning and marking, this must be considered when setting your emphasis on key traits.
And if the survival rate of your Merino weaners post weaning, is greater than or less than the seven per cent national average loss?
"This post weaning loss is of great concern, because if your weaners are struggling through that phase it puts them behind, limiting their productivity early in life," Dr Trompf said.
"They are not born with a 'death certificate' as many breeders think - every animal is born with the willingness to live and survive."
But breeders are in control of the balance of the genes in the animal and the management to ensure it's productivity matches it's genetic potential.
Other questions posed by Dr Trompf included the performance of the maiden ewe - is she marking significantly less or almost the same as the adult ewe and why?
"Firstly, have you created a maiden that can scan as good as your adult ewe?" he asked.
"But if the maiden is way behind the adult ewe, then let's breed her right and manage her right."
And when it comes to auditing the survival rate of your grown ewes, how does it compare with the five percent loss across the national average?
"What is the ability of those ewes to maintain condition score under nutritional stress?' Dr Trompf wondered.
"So before we sit down and say we want more, lets do a stocktake and answer those questions first.
"A fitness audit is an imperative spot to start and it will bring producers back to reality before we go to the ram sale and bid up."
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