Show ring science tested by modern genetics

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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WAMMCO chairman and Poll Dorset breeder Dawson Bradford said sheep genetics, although not an exact science, had contributed substantially to the industry during the past 20 years.

"Genetics have had a strong role in lifting the potential of a producer's net worth," he said.

As a Poll Dorset breeder for more than 50 years, Mr Bradford said the breed's national flock had increased its post weaning weight (PWWT) by an average of 11kg since the introduction of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs).

"That means commercial producers who have adopted these genetics in their lamb breeding projects have seen live weight gains of 5.5kg or more in that time," he said.

Mr Bradford said lamb producers consistently say that they are now growing their lambs heavier in the same amount of time as they did 10 years ago.

"The only difference is they are using better measured genetics and are receiving the benefits," he said.

Mr Bradford said there was a place for the traditional sheep 'show ring' subjective measurement and modern objective measurement to be used together.

"Show rings provide a great forum for the acceptance of industry standards, but there needs to be a balance of subjective and objective assessment in there," he said.

"Sadly, this currently does not exist and is leading to the demise and value of the show ring."

Mr Bradford warned that if advocates of traditional breeding standards were at odds with those who recognised science - or vice versa - commercial progress would be affected.

"The Australian sheep industry must accept genetic values, as have all other significant breeding industries, both livestock and plant breeding," he said.

Mr Bradford said it was understandable that subjective assessment of breeding stock was used exclusively for selection before the availability of ASBVs.

"However, there is now full unbiased access to information on the genetic values of sheep for traits, which for the most part under the old subjective assessment were guessed at," he said. "Traits such as growth rate, muscling, fat, fibre diameter, fleece weight and yield are classic examples of this."

Mr Bradford said the determination on the part of some sheep breeders to not accept this was unfathomable.

"If producers, who are price takers, don't adopt new proven technology as it becomes available, they will deny themselves access to those elements that they have most control over - production traits such as growth rate, fat measurement, fibre diameter and wool yield," he said.

"With the research facilities and quality staff that the sheep industry has, Australian sheep producers should be - and in a lot of cases are - world leaders in all of the commercial traits that are so important to profitable production in our environment.

"It seems unthinkable for commercial producers not to make best use of this technology."

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