Breeder says research findings cannot be ignored

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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Scaddan sheep breeder and Wattle Dale stud principal David Vandenberghe has introduced Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) to his program, after insight into the success of Australia's largest wether trial.

Sharing similar breeding principles to Craig Wilson, who is the convenor of the Peter Westblade Memorial Merino Challenge (PWMMC), Mr Vandenberghe is convinced the industry should be led by proven research validations.

"While the Merino industry is constantly being bombarded with unproven breeding trends, we will continue to class our sheep using visual assessment combined with fleece measurements and all validated by performance recording," he said.

"Our breeding direction is not to waiver in producing early maturing sheep that cut heavy fleece weights."

The same sentiment holds true for Wagga Wagga sheep classer Craig Wilson, who said the value of sourcing stud rams from a breeder using performance recording was invaluable. Mr Wilson has run the PWMMC, held at Collingullie, New South Wales, since 2010.

As a tribute to the late Peter Westblade, who was a visionary and passionate sheep breeder, the Challenge aims to discover the genetic opportunities that apply to a more sustainable Merino industry.

It is Australia's biggest commercial evaluation of Merino genetics and involves 1500 sheep, comprising 50 teams of 30 wethers from around the country. All participating teams come from commercial Merino flocks and represent 35 bloodlines.

The success of the trial is in its evaluation of the entrants' flock genetics for wool and meat traits, which in turn help Merino breeders to make more informed decisions.

"The objective information is vital for breeders and the industry to maximise profits," Mr Wilson said.

He said most of the top-performing teams - ranked by net profit per hectare - were from bloodlines associated with genetic technologies in MerinoSelect.

The PWMMC includes commercial breeders who have been using objective genetic selection for many years and breeders who have not previously benchmarked their flocks.

The trial has tested more than 4000 wethers for up to 20 wool and meat traits since 2004.

Mr Wilson said average weight gains had reached 13kg, or 237 grams per day, over a seven-week period.

He said the future of the sheep industry was in genomics research but producers were desperate for information that would give them confidence to progress their breeding direction. "Those producers in the middle range of performance are not improving fast enough and many do not have a breeding objective to drive change," he said.

Mr Wilson said getting involved in across flock evaluations through wether trials would be a good first step towards increasing flock performance. "Producers need to measure genetic traits (of animals) unpampered by feed," he said.

Mr Wilson said another important step for producers who had not defined their direction was to use MerinoSelect indexes as a guide when sourcing rams from studs.

These are well explained on the MerinoSelect website, which lists three main breeding indexes, _see box _.

Mr Wilson said sheep producers should concentrate on early growth maturity, good conformation and effective management principles using both subjective and objective measurement perimeters.

Many of Mr Wilson's clients produce 100kg rams that cut 9.5kg of 16 micron wool.

"We select for profitability over plain-bodied types," he said.

He said wether trials had shown sheep with medium staple length cut heavier fleece weights.

Mr Wilson has been consulting with Mr Vandenberghe for two years.

For 20 years, the Vandenberghe family has entered sheep in the South East Merino Breeders Improvement Group's wether trial.

Mr Vandenberghe is waiting for the stud's first ASBV data and will offer 100 recorded rams at the Esperance Ram Sale on September 7.

At the Vandenberghe on-property field day on August 31, Mr Wilson will speak about ASBVs and how they can be an effective tool to improve sheep performance.

At the recent Long Wool Day at the Narrogin Ram Shed, Cascade breeder Scott Pickering was the only stud of 33 to display MerinoSelect indexes.

"We have been performance recording with ASBVs for four years," Mr Pickering said. "Clients are interested in our progress of measuring greasy fleece weights."

Breeding indexes *

_The MerinoSelect website lists three main breeding indexes: _

·The new fibre production indexes rank animals on their ability to produce Merinos for a wool production operation.

·The Merino production indexes rank animals on their ability to produce progeny for a fine wool operation that has significant surplus sheep sales.

·The dual-purpose indexes rank animals on their ability to produce Merinos for a dual-purpose operation.

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