Merino genetic profile succeeds for Wheatbelt farmers

Varley sheep producer and Newdegate Machinery Field Days president Craig Newman.
Camera IconVarley sheep producer and Newdegate Machinery Field Days president Craig Newman. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

Estimating the genetic merit of a Merino drop is important at Wheatbelt sheep producers Anna-Lisa and Craig Newman’s 8500ha mixed-enterprise farm, Karradale.

The husband-and-wife team, who are based at Varley north-east of Newdegate, first used DNA Flock Profile testing in 2018 to gauge a better understanding of their flock’s genetic improvement.

Benchmarking the flock of 5000 Merino ewes’ genetic base to determine suitable ram selections had been beneficial, according to Mrs Newman.

“The results of the first test told us that our fleece weights and staple length probably needed improvement, so we have been using RamSelect to ensure the rams we are using would boost those traits,” she said.

The DNA Flock Profile test was developed by the former Sheep CRC, which disbanded on June 30 last year, and is now delivered to farmers by Queensland group Neogen Australasia.

It provides a set of genetic measures for benchmarking a flock against industry averages, with data available via the RamSelect website to help buyers select rams to suit breeding objectives.

Randomly sampling 20 young ewes, the test uses genetic links from livestock of known breeding values to estimate the genetic basis of the commercial flock.

Mrs Newman said the family’s flock had improved in the two years since their initial test.

“Staple length is easiest for us to measure, I have been taking samples when we shear, so I can see it is improving and we are seeing much better lengths,” she said. “We have also shifted our ram team from the 80th percentile in fleece weight to the 50th in two years, so that in itself is pretty impressive. I look at RamSelect before I go to a ram sale just to make sure we are continuing in the right direction.”

RamSelect is an online tool designed to simplify the use of Australian Sheep Breeding Values to identify the right genetics for any flock. RamSelect quickly searches data sources like MERINOSELECT, LAMBPLAN and DOHNE, cross-references the results with rams listed for sale, and selects the genetics that align with a farmer’s breeding objectives.

Mrs Newman said profiling of Karradale’s Merino flock would continue.

“We are about to undertake our second Flock Profile test and we are excited to see the data around exactly how much improvement we are making,” she said. “We also want to make sure we aren’t going too far in one direction.

“We know that if we push too hard for certain traits, we might start to lag on others, so we want to avoid that issue as well.”

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