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Genetics a Dohne deal for David

Melissa WilliamsCountryman

Performance-measuring is an integral part of David Kain’s Dohne sheep breeding operation at Arthur River as he targets genetic improvements for ewe fertility and lamb growth rates.

David was one of the first WA farmers to secure Dohne sheep embryos in 1999.

These were flushed from ewes produced from the first imported embryos to WA from South Africa.

He started with 72 pregnancies and since then estimates he has bred about 7000 Dohne sheep through his Far Valley stud, including ewes that have become the base of other Dohne studs in Australia and overseas.

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Dohnes are easy-care, dual-purpose sheep that can achieve 110-150 per cent fertility, rapid lamb growth rates of 350 to 500 grams a day up to weaning, slaughter weights of 50kg at six-months-old and wool cuts of 5 to 6kg/head measuring 18 to 20 micron.

Each year, David sells about 250 rams from his stud enterprise and runs a commercial flock of about 3000 ewes for prime lamb production. He crops 65 per cent of his Great Southern property to wheat, barley, canola, oats and export hay.

He has a long history of genetic performance recording and has used Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs) for 32 years in the sheep and pig industries.

It is compulsory for all Dohne breeders globally to undertake pedigree and performance recording for 100-day body weight, 200-day body weight, eye muscle and fat depth and 365-day body weight, fleece and maternal traits measurements.

The breed has one of the best sheep continual performance recording databases in the world, dating back to the 1950s, and allows comparisons of rams between all major breeding countries, including South Africa, Uruguay and Argentina.

From June this year, this Dohne information will be added to Australia’s leading genetic evaluation and improvement services LAMBPLAN and MERINOSELECT.

These systems, operated by Sheep Genetics, will then be analysing and distributing genetic information for all sheep breeds in Australia.

David, who is the Australian Dohne Breeders Association president, said the addition of Dohne breed information to LAMBPLAN would be very valuable in helping to validate the accuracy of its genetic information because the Dohne genotype was highly predictable.

He said Australia’s 1300-odd Dohne stud breeders and commercial producers would also benefit from the new alliance in having access to latest R&D advances being made by Sheep Genetics, especially in the fields of genomics and DNA breeding technologies.

“Developments in genomics are exciting because, over time, we will be able to get accurate genetic information at the birth of the lamb for hard to measure traits and traits that would otherwise have to be measured 18 months down the track, ” he said.

“Potentially it will eliminate the need for us to conduct 365-day testing for fleece traits.”

David said within his Dohne flock, use of ASBVs and genetic evaluation had led to big improvements in lambing percentages and early lamb growth rates.

He said 50 per cent of his ewes consistently achieved multiple pregnancies across years while maintaining bodyweight.

“It is not uncommon — in good seasons — to have ewes rearing multiples and achieving 80kg bodyweight with 100-day old lambs, ” he said.

“Lambing percentages are now around 130 per cent, compared to about 85 per cent when I ran a pure Merino flock.

“Last year I had more than 800 4-year-old ewes with a weaning rate of 150 per cent per ewes mated.”

David aims to market more than 1700 wether and cull-ewe Dohne prime lambs annually with a target sale weight of 50kg at about 8-months-old.

He said topped-up with mature ewe sales, this was a highly productive system.

David’s lambs are grazed on crop stubbles over summer and receive some supplementary feed during late summer and autumn.

In March this year a line of his wether lambs fetched $155/head at the Katanning saleyards.

David said the popularity of the Dohne breed in WA, and across the nation, was growing as wool and meat producers looked to source genetics for high fertility, lamb growth and wool quality.

He estimated about 0.5 million sheep in WA were now influenced by Dohne genetics.

“Dohnes can be used to lower average wool micron by 3 to 5 micron in some meat breed flocks to boost returns without compromising meat production and can lift meat production and fertility in Merino flocks, ” he said.

“The breed is highly versatile for wool and meat production systems.”

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