DNA test aids ram selection

Zach RelphCountryman
Livestock manager Karl Witt.
Camera IconLivestock manager Karl Witt. Credit: Dorothy Henderson

A DNA sheep test has been heralded as key to providing commercial breeders with genetic measures for benchmarking flock against industry averages ahead of the ram selling season.

New South Wales research body Sheep CRC’s genomic-based Flock Profile estimates the genetic merit of a Merino flock or drop through a random selection of 20 ewes for DNA testing.

The data — then stored on the Sheep CRC-developed Ram Select website — can be compared to sheep genetics database, allowing producers to make informed breeding decisions.

At Cascade, north-east of Esperance, Hargate Park livestock manager Karl Witt has been making refined ram selection after using the Flock Profile test in 2015 and 2017.

Mr Witt said the data had allowed the farming operation, which runs 6500 Merino ewes, to determine where flock improvement needed to be made.

“It helped with ram purchases and targeting rams that were better than our previous flock and ram team averages in order to drive improvement,” he said.

“That didn’t mean we chased the top level, very expensive rams.

“We were able to use the RamSelect filters to exclude rams below our benchmark values from the search and focus on value for money rams that we knew would deliver genetic improvement.”

Hargate Park is a 10,000ha mixed enterprise owned by Esperance’s Stead family.

In addition to the flock, the farm includes 600 Angus breeders and about 7000ha of wheat, canola and barley crop.

About 3000ha of vetch, serradella and biserrula pastures supports the livestock feed, while a sheep feedlot is used finish wethers for sale as prime lambs or to the live export trade.

For Mr Witt, Australian Sheep Breeding Values in addition to visual assessment is critical when selecting sheep and rams.

He also fleece weighs ewe hoggets as part of the selection process.

With wool a major part of Hargate’s operation, with the adult ewe flock averages 19.5 micron and the hoggets about 18.5 micron, Mr Witt said maintaining quality breeding was a priority.

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