Lifting lamb output in the genes

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Maximising profitability of commercial lamb production is the key driver behind Craig and Liz Heggaton's BreedersBEST Genetics.

Based in Kojonup, they run three separate studs, two of which are composite breeds - maternal Prolific and non-shearing Kojaks - as well as a Poll Dorset stud and a commercial flock of 12,000 ewes.

Twelve years ago the Heggatons were crossing Merino and Poll Dorset genetics and felt they were not producing enough kilograms of meat per hectare.

"We needed to lift our lamb production and at the same time look at where we thought the industry needed to head," Dr Heggaton said.

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At the time they were involved in the first importation into WA of East Friesians, the highest milk producing sheep breed.

Their commercial focus to lift lambing percentages saw the birth of their maternal composite breed Prolific.

After infusing several breeds, including the Finn for higher fertility and Samm for carcase attributes, it was found the BreedersBEST Prolific when crossed with a Merino made an ideal F1 mother.

"We are marking 150 per cent lambs out of our mature F1ewes and our ewe lambs with a minimum weight of 45kg can achieve 90 per cent conception rates and 130 per cent lambing," Dr Heggaton said.

Pregnancy scanning on purebred Prolific ewes has been as high as 179 per cent.

In March, BreedersBEST client John Foss and Co set a new record for commercial ewes at $225 with Prolific first-cross three-year-old ewes.

Included in the Heggatons' vision for the future lamb industry was a strong need for a non-shearing sheep.

Having started with Dorpers nine years ago, it was quickly recognised that this pure breed was not the total answer.

Their fertility and fecundity was inadequate to compensate for the lack of wool income. They also showed very little respect for fencing that had previously been sufficient.

Wiltipolls were first introduced to increase fertility and carcase size.

Subsequently, both Finn and East Friesians have been added to further increase fertility and carcase size while maintaining selection on shedding.

This composite non-shearing breed was named the Kojak after the famous bald television cop.

Lamb marking from a five-week joining has increased from 90 per cent with the pure Dorper to 130 per cent since introduction of the other breeds. They are now more easily contained behind reasonable fences.

"The Kojak can achieve a larger carcase at a younger age and we are aiming for 22kg at 16 weeks," Dr Heggaton said.

Also under the BreedersBEST Genetics banner is Sherwood Poll Dorsets which is based heavily on a Pine Avenue ewe flock with the selection of leading sire genetics from Australia and New Zealand.

Eighty of the top sires will be offered for auction this year at the Kojonup Triple S Sale on October 12. All ewe lambs are mated at seven to eight months and only those that rear twins by 15 months are selected into the breeding program.

With additional selection criteria, only the top 5 per cent of ewes are selected as donors for subsequent embryo transfer.

Because most sheep in the BreedersBEST program have been bred through embryo transfer, rapid genetic gains are being made.

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