Science of the Merino day shines fresh light on genetics

Headshot of Bob Garnant
Bob GarnantCountryman
Yardstick participant David Vandenberghe, of Wattle Dale stud, at Scaddan.
Camera IconYardstick participant David Vandenberghe, of Wattle Dale stud, at Scaddan. Credit: Bob Garnant

Identifying the best genetics within a Merino flock’s variation will sort out the massive difference between the top and bottom performers, according to the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association.

In terms of profitability, AMSEA has identified that the top 25 per cent performers of a flock would make $31 per ewe per year more than the bottom 25 per cent.

AMSEA was founded in 2000 to oversee and create policy for all sire evaluation trials in Australia, through a national committee.

Sorting the most profitable Merino genetics was the hot topic at the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Science of the Merino Sheep Field Day at Katanning last Tuesday, November 29.

The event attracted 35 visitors to DPIRD’s Katanning Research Facility, including woolgrower participants, researchers and industry representatives who had a first-hand glimpse of the Yardstick Merino Sire Evaluation Trial.

AMSEA executive officer Ben Swain welcomed participants to the trial, which was established in 1989 to compare the breeding performance of Merino sires by evaluating their progeny.

“A consistent ewe base is joined to trial sires via an artificial insemination program, and the resulting progeny are evaluated to assess a sire’s breeding performance for a large number of traits, which are important to breeders and commercial producers,” he said.

“The results assist in the selection of sires suitable for a large range of breeding objectives.”

The Yardstick Merino Sire Evaluation Trial attracted visitors to the DPIRD Katanning Sheep Field Day.
Camera IconThe Yardstick Merino Sire Evaluation Trial attracted visitors to the DPIRD Katanning Sheep Field Day. Credit: Bob Garnant

Mr Swain said Yardstick was one of 10 active Merino sire evaluation sites located across Australia.

“Yardstick works to breed sheep that are to be well-grown and structurally sound,” he said.

“There needs to be a balance between wool and body size in order to provide the typical dual-purpose WA Merino type.”

Mr Swain said typically, when run commercially, a Merino ewe’s body weight would be 10 times the greasy fleece weight.

“Visually, the wool should be medium length, of attractive crimp, bright and white, uniform over the body and with no evidence of fleece rot,” he said.

“Head and hock cover is of little importance.”

Mr Swain said there were 5000 different businesses influencing ram genetics across Australia, including 1000 stud Merino breeders and 4000 commercial woolgrowers.

“We estimate 22 per cent of commercial woolgrowers breed their own rams, bringing to the fore of why it is important to use Yardstick analysis as a profitability incentive,” he said.

Scaddan stud Merino breeder David Vandenberghe, of Wattle Dale stud, had two sires’ progeny groups in the Yardstick trial at the field day.

He said through his participation in MerinoSelect and the trial, he was able to identify a 2018-drop ram which was a multiple trait leader.

From the Merinoselect’s animal ID website, Wattle Dale 182067 recorded 10 trait leading measurements including 14.3 YWT, 35.5 YCFW, 21.2 ACFW, -2.3 YFD, plus all six indexes including a DP+ of 212.

“We will enter this ram in Yardstick and will be anxious to see how its progeny will perform in due process,” Mr Vandenberghe said.

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