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Pingelly MLP Project Final Field Day asks important questions for profitable sheep production

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Bob GarnantCountryman
AWI genetics program manager Geoff Lindon, MLP Pingelly site manager Bronwyn Clarke, AGBU Prof. Daniel Brown, MLP national manager Anne Ramsay, AWI director Meredith Sheil and MLP Pingelly chairman Brett Jones.
Camera IconAWI genetics program manager Geoff Lindon, MLP Pingelly site manager Bronwyn Clarke, AGBU Prof. Daniel Brown, MLP national manager Anne Ramsay, AWI director Meredith Sheil and MLP Pingelly chairman Brett Jones. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

The Pingelly Merino Lifetime Productivity Project Final Field Day found more questions than answers on sheep productivity and profitability.

The day was hosted by the MLP Project Pingelly site management group on October 21, with about 80 people being updated on a lifetime ewe study which started in 2015.

The project’s sire evaluation sites are in diverse climates with genetically diverse ewe bases at Pingelly (WA), Harrow (Victoria), Temora (NSW), Trangie (NSW) and Armidale (NSW).

The $127 million national MLP Project, which will end in 2025, was initiated through Australian Wool Innovation and the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association.

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The 10-year project is intended to capture lifetime data across diverse environments and Merino types to help better understand and deliver Merino ewe lifetime performance outcomes for the Australian Merino industry.

AWI genetics program manager Geoff Lindon.
Camera IconAWI genetics program manager Geoff Lindon. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

AWI genetics program manager Geoff Lindon said the MLP Project was still in the data collection phase, with a significant analysis job ahead.

“We collected 1.7 million bits of data and will finished with 1.9m by 2024,” he said.

“AWI selected the University of New England’s animal genetics and breeding unit to finish the analysis by 2026.”

Mr Lindon said the key aim of the MLP Project was to find out how current MerinoSelect indexes line up with the profitability and productivity of the project’s data analysis.

“The data analysis is quite complicated and will need to be fine-tuned,” he said.

“There are some things not in the indexes because we don’t yet have the data.”

He said sheep survival trait had not yet been factored in.

“Some sires have 100 per cent of their progeny there (survived), but some have only 60 per cent,” Mr Lindon said.

“Methane is also going to be a pressing important issue in the future and how do we factor in welfare traits?”

Mr Lindon said progeny testing was an important part of breeding.

He said a ram breeder or commercial producer’s ability to select the top 1 per cent of sires or ewes for an ET program or special stud selections was essential for industy uptake.

“The ability to accurately predict animals at a young age for their lifetime productivity is a key part of improving the returns of Merinos,” Mr Lindon said.

“Over the last 40 years, the age of which Merinos have been selected have come back and we are now joining ewe lambs at five to six months of age.

“How do we find the best rams to breed from and what is the most cost effective way of finding them?”

Mr Lindon said the MLP Project had collected a heap of data which would be used to define a “sweet point” for cost and accuracy of the selection process.

“We do have animals that can do it all — they have fleece weight, low wrinkle and reproduction, but we need to know how to identify them,” he said.

“As well, do we need to measure lifetime fleece and fertility?

“How are we going to get better prediction about survival and resilience at a younger age?”

Mr Lindon also asked if there was a need to measure mature ewe size.

“Can we select for high growth and then get smaller ewes to address the issue of shearing big sheep,” he said.

“Is mature ewe body weight a thing?”

He also asked what could be gotten out of the MLP that backs up the continued running of a reference flock.

“Importantly, once we get MLP results out, how can we drive adoption,” Mr Lindon said.

“There are all these questions that require the analysis to be done propertly through the proper scientific process.

“Depending on the outcomes, hopefully we can fine tune the MerinoSelect indexes.”

Mr Lindon said the MLP was aiming at improving the returns per head or DSE to improve producers’ profitability per head.

“Current analysis results are showing the value of visual classing, so how do we improve on that,” he said.

“Higher rates of cost effective gain are going to be the return that AWI levy payers get out of this project.”

Site manager Bronwyn Clarke said early Pingelly MLP Project data analysis found that wool traits were mostly accurate in predicting lifetime production from the first shearing, but reproductive traits required more data input.

“Additional reproduction measurements will improve the accuracy,” she said.

University of New England AGBU principal research scientist Prof. Daniel Brown, MLP national manager Anne Ramsay, UNE AGBU research fellow Dr Peter Wahinya, and UNE AGBU senior research fellow Dr Sam Walkom.
Camera IconUniversity of New England AGBU principal research scientist Prof. Daniel Brown, MLP national manager Anne Ramsay, UNE AGBU research fellow Dr Peter Wahinya, and UNE AGBU senior research fellow Dr Sam Walkom. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

University of New England AGBU Prof. Daniel Brown said there was a lot of variation in reproduction performance at Pingelly, which was generally independent of other traits.

“Reproduction performance positive associations included bigger sheep, increased muscle pattern, broader and longer staple, less wrinkle and lower fleece weights,” he said.

“You need to balance selections and select for all the traits that are important and not use single trait selections.”

Prof. Brown said to increase weaning rate, producers should select directly for the WR traits including conception, litter size and ewe rearing ability.

“It is very inefficient to select for the indirect traits of fat, muscle, wrinkle and body weight,” he said.

The Pingelly MLP Project Final Field Day brought a big crowd of visitors to the UWA Farm 'Ridgefield'.
Camera IconThe Pingelly MLP Project Final Field Day brought a big crowd of visitors to the UWA Farm 'Ridgefield'. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

Pingelly MLP Project site chairman Brett Jones guided field day visitors to each pen of ewes on display to give an update on the particular sire of each group and its corresponding ASBV and index values.

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