Knowing the flock, from the bottom up

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian
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As part of a clean, green and ethics theme of animal production, a group of 20 Chinese students had an encounter with one of the most high-profile sheep flocks in WA.

On their tour of the Great Southern, to witness WA ecosystems, agricultural farming practices and the handling of environmental issues, a glimpse into sheep research at the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) Mt Barker research station was in order to view the Rylington Merino flock.

DAFWA research officer John Karlsson told the students that Australia had the dubious distinction of having some of the highest drench resistance in the world.

"This is the result of drenching sheep at a time of the year and without regard to different age group requirement," he said.

"This can lead to a very high selection pressure on the worm population in favour of those worms that carry specific drench-resistant genes."

Mr Karlsson said that despite new drenches becoming available recently, this problem would continue if not addressed.

"The sheep industry, therefore, needs to start to adopt sustainable worm control practices based on Integrated Parasite Management (IPM) principles."

He said one component of IPM in Sheep Worm Control should be the selection of sheep that were more resistant to worms.

"The attraction of this approach is that it leads to permanent and accumulative gains and also creates a more 'clean and green' production system," Mr Karlsson said.

He said the Rylington Merino flock had demonstrated that selection for worm resistance was highly effective because this flock was now considered the most worm-resistant flock in Australia.

"This flock has made significant contributions to our understanding of breeding for worm resistance and to the inheritance of worm induced diarrhoea (winter scours) in sheep," he said.

Mr Karlsson said Sheep Genetics listed Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV) for worm egg counts (FEC) and counts of dags (DAG).

Breeders could use these ASBVs to identify genetically superior sires for worm resistance, and being less prone to develop dags, to breed more robust sheep that were resistant to worms. UWA veterinary medicine student Cherry Xue also spoke to the visitors about her training program at Mt Barker.

"Parasites are a major cost to the farming community and a sustainable worm control is of utmost importance," she said.

Ms Xue kept her eye on the worm faecal egg count of the Rylington Merino flock.

"You can't manage if you can't measure," she told the students.

The students were all given an opportunity to make an observation about their visit. This is what they said:

Feng He: * The farm is so beautiful that I want to visit again.

Yaxi Xu: *The research here is really meaningful and cool.

Hongyu Ren: * It is hard and very necessary work.

Shanshan Tang: *A cleaned bottom enables sheep healthy.

Shan Liu: *Unforgettable trip with WA's friendly people, excellent view and also strong wind.

Qi Zhang: *How modern the station is. My dear sheep, be mindful of your ass. Ha ha.

Jian Xu: *The DAFWA Mt Barker research station is quite promising because it is environmental friendly and for future generations.

Ang Lei: *I had a joyful tour there.

Chengbao Wang: * Lambs are living in peace and enjoying their wonderful family lives.

Wangya Han *: Wish you a better future, the dazzling farm.

Dongjie An: * Free, beautiful and excellent.

Jie Liu: *When we were visiting DAFWA Mt Barker research station, firstly we had excellent lectures by John Karlsson, and then we came to the beautiful sheep farm as well as took may exciting photos with sheep.

As a student studying animal science, I hope humans could always keep in harmony with animals when developing animal industry with our efforts.

Jiaying Wu: * In the farm I saw new-born lambs. They are so white and small which made me have pity on them.

When I saw Mr Karlsson held them up and smiled to them, I learnt the friendship between humans and animals.

Ouyang Jie: * A wonderful balance between agriculture and environment.

Guohua Meng: * I would like to make some advices.

On one hand the manager of the farm should pay an attention to the protection of meadow. On the other hand I think that some measures should be taken to keep fleece clean.

For instance, putting on some special clothes on the sheep.

I wish sheep could growth healthy.

Beibei Liu: * Animals are best friends to humans.

There is so much relationship between us and animals.

In order to live a better life and develop in a sustainable way, we should take good care of these lovely sheep.

Only with green grass and free life, can we provide a healthy way for them.

Yumin Qin: *The farm is well managed and the baby lamb is so cute.

The style of farming is different from our country, but both suitable to their situations.

Caiwei Liu: *Cutest lambs ever seen.

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