UWA lifetime productivity project offers early results

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian
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Merino Lifetime Productivity Project site committee chairman Brett Jones has been an active participant in the trial, with his family’s Ejanding Merinos represented through progeny performance.
Camera IconMerino Lifetime Productivity Project site committee chairman Brett Jones has been an active participant in the trial, with his family’s Ejanding Merinos represented through progeny performance. Credit: Bob Garnant

Sheep producers got to know more about the Merino Lifetime Productivity Project at the University of WA’s Ridgefield farm at Pingelly last week.

About 60 participants first had a look at 15 progeny groups of sheep from as many sires represented.

MLP Project site chairman Brett Jones said the results of the progeny displayed Flock Breeding Values that expressed the performance of progeny of a sire relative to another sire in the evaluation when mated to the same standard ewes.

“FBVs improve the accuracy of the sire results because they account for the association between traits, adjustment for birth effects and the number of progeny a sire has in the analysis,” he said.

Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association executive officer Ben Swain said the $10 million MLP Project was designed to increase an understanding of the genetics of the modern Merino sheep to produce wool, lambs and meat over its lifetime.

“We need to fine-tune what we do, or provide confidence in current genetic tools to deliver genetic gain across genotypes and environments,” he said.

“The Project is an industry collaboration that included participation from Australian Wool Innovation, AMSEA, site entrants, site committee and site hosts.

“It involves ram breeders, commercial sheep producers, livestock agents, service providers and independent sheep classers.

“The Merino industry is changing, which involves wool, meat, fertility, disease and welfare.

“Lifetime relationships between these traits involve large gaps.”

Mr Swain said the MLP Project was also grasping at the rapid development of technology in areas of electronics, recording and genomic predictions.

“Industry questions what is the impact of selecting rams and ewes using early age measurements for which we have some answers, but there are areas still to define including the relevance to all traits, all Merino types and all environments,” he said.

“We need to understand the trade-offs between selecting for carcase traits, wool and fertility.

“We can build industry confidence if traits, types or technology can better predict lifetime productivity.”

Mr Swain said protocols included 166 sires entered into the MLP Project nationally over five sites.

“These sires are each mated to 90 ewes using artificial insemination with an aim of 20 F1 ewes per sire by six years of age,” he said.

“The F1 ewes (joined four to five times) will all be retained (no culling) and will be objectively assessed through six to seven shearings. This includes parentage recording via DNA tests on ewe and F2 lambs and genomic tests.”

Mr Swain said the recordings included wool measurements, growth and carcase, disease and welfare, visual wool traits, visual conformation traits, classing, joining, pregnancy and lambing.

MLP Project site manager Bronwyn Clarke said the 15 sire groups at Ridgefield covered a range of genetics, types, horn or poll, and included young and old representation of sire’s ages.

“Data is presented using FBVs, which improves the accuracy of sire results,” she said.

“FBVs account for correlations between traits including heritability, an adjustment for birth types, rear types and dam age and the number of progeny a sire has plus sex types of those progeny.”

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