Some 13 years ago Kangaroo Island woolgrowers John and Jo Symons realised that they needed to change the way they managed their farm. They had serious concerns about the viability of the enterprise and the outlook for the future. But little did they know that their next step would lead to such dramatic change in their flock, the way they managed their farm and their bottom line.“We were doing it pretty tough. For a variety of reasons we owed a fair bit of money and banks were being pretty miserable. So, we had to do something different,” John said.
They approached Greg Johnsson’s Agvet Services for advice, wondering if they should consider changing their ram source or turning to a dual-purpose breed. Coincidentally the Agvet Services team had been planning a model farm for the Kangaroo Island Sheep Production group.
“We were looking for a farm where we could put in place what we considered to be best practice management techniques, demonstrating and evaluating its effects on-farm as well as introducing and evaluating some newer and older technologies and approaches,” Greg said.
The Symons run ‘Turkey Lane’, a 530-hectare property located at Parndana. The property runs a commercial flock of around 6,000 Merinos and receives an annual rainfall of 715mm. To read more download the case study below.
CLICK ON THE BUTTON TO THE LEFT TO WATCH THE ABC LANDLINE EPISODE "GOLDEN FLEECE" FEATURING TURKEY LANE, KANGAROO ISLAND.
In North Eastern Victoria commercial Merino producers Lyndon and Sharon Kubeil are successfully breeding a profitable, early-maturing Merino whilst keeping an eye on wool cut and quality. However, this has not always been the case. In 2000, when the Kubeils first purchased their property “Laurana”, just outside of Violet Town in North Eastern Victoria, they soon found that the sheep they were breeding were not ideally suited to their new environment, and the productivity gains they were looking for were not being realised. So the Kubeils went looking for a source of rams with genetics proven in the local area and aligned with the direction they were heading.
“We settled on the Toland Poll Merinos as they were bred locally and we liked the breeding direction that Phil Toland was taking, with a greater emphasis on growth rates, worm resistance, fertility and a free growing type of wool,” Lyndon said. “The Toland sheep had been measured for key production traits over many years, so the numbers supported the direction that Phil was heading.” To read more download the case study below.
For James and Lucie Peddie, sheep breeding is a relatively new venture having first cut their teeth farming as dairy producers, before moving into sheep production in 2002 and the subsequent purchase of their current property “Yalunga”, just outside of Penshurst in Western Victoria, in 2004. Now running 6700 ewes in a self-replacing maternal flock, this progressive family farm operation has its sights set on growing the business even further after a recent purchase of additional land. Both James and Lucie have a background in the dairy industry, which gave them an appreciation for performance breeding through the use of breeding values from early on in their farming careers. “The dairy industry has used performance recording, progeny testing and breeding values for many years and as a result has achieved considerable rates of genetic gain,” James said. “We wanted to use that knowledge to help breed more productive and profitable sheep.” The Peddies’ early sheep purchases included a range of genetics and consisted of a mixture of first-cross and composite ewes which were joined to terminal sires. To read more download the case study below.
Selecting rams with a combination of high performance figures in the traits most suited to their operation is delivering real productivity improvements to the flock of Matt and Bec Macarthur Onslow. The Macarthur Onslow’s two properties, ‘Cannanbri’ and ‘Eulo’, are part of a diversified family business centred 25 kilometres south of Walcha on the southern end of the Northern Tablelands. Since adopting the use of ASBVs when selecting rams, the flock has recorded improved fleece weights, weaning weights and weaning percentages, which together have significantly improved the business’s bottom line. “The main breeding objectives are to increase clean fleece weight while maintaining micron, yield and wool quality,” Matt said. “I believe that we have benefited strongly from genetic research and that the stud industry needs to continue to focus on performance. “Now I do not look at a Merino stud that does not supply and use ASBVs in their breeding program.”
In the past rams were selected by looking at the sheep and wool quality, as well as the fleece cuts, but the use of ASBVs for wool traits has now given him added confidence in the animal’s genetics. To read more download the case study below.
Lifetime commercial sheep producers Roy and Nan Robertson are combining their industry experience and eye for good stock with the use of ASBV’s to deliver improved wool and superior first-cross lambs. Using ASBVs has given them confidence in breeding a flock that can handle the environmental conditions at their two properties near Armidale, in the NSW New England region. “Prior to using ASBVs, rams were selected by looking at sheep and wool quality and targeting Merinos with the highest clean fleece weight and for terminal sires the biggest Dorset and Border Leicester rams with best wool quality,” Roy said. “We now use ASBV information as well and believe it is a ‘no-brainer’. “We are comfortable with using measurements in livestock production and have seen the advances that EBVs have delivered to the cattle industry.
We sell wool with prices largely determined on test results and we sell our lambs over the hook, where having quality carcasses with even cover is important.” The Robertsons run two distinct operations at two blocks located 30km apart in distinctly different environments. To read more download the case study below.
Genetic selection based on objective breeding measurements has proved itself to the O’Brien family, ‘The Maze’, Gulargambone, NSW, as a tried and true driver of profit and flock performance. In fact, the O’Briens have been using objective measurements as a tool for genetic selection for more than 45 years. The O’Brien family breed a true dual-purpose Merino by focusing on the key profit drivers of body weight, fibre diameter and fleece weight through a combination of objective measurements and visual selection. In 1965, Greg O’Brien started to individually measure ewe fleece weights in order to determine which of his ewes were more profitable. In the 1980s Greg added objective fibre diameter measurement to aid in this selection.
Today, Greg’s daughter Alison Tancred, along with husband JB, runs a mixed cropping and Merino enterprise covering 7000 acres of owned and leased country centred around “The Maze”, and continue to select ewes and rams based on objective measurements. To read more download the case study below.
A focus on the key profit drivers of fine wool production and a strong commitment to genetic improvement has delivered Grant and Annette Burbidge a profitable selfreplacing Merino flock. Operating across four properties, covering 1680 hectares between Tarcutta and Tumbarumba, on the South West Slopes of NSW, the Burbidge’s join 12,000 ewes annually. Eight hundred ewes make up a ram breeding nucleus which has the single purpose of multiplying industry leading genetics for use in their commercial flock. “We started breeding our rams many years ago,” Grant said. “We believed that the genetic gain from producing rams within our own flock was as good or better than buying rams from other sources. It is also cost effective.”
Whilst that might sound easy, breeding high quality rams for use in the commercial operation has taken a dedicated focus on the breeding objective for many years. “Fibre diameter and clean fleece weight are the major profit drivers in our business,” Grant said. “We focus on those first and foremost, but it’s also important that we keep an eye on staple strength and worm egg count, which depending on the season, can also play a major role.” To read more download the case study below.
The long term use of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), coupled with stringent visual assessment, has given a Western Australian ram breeding group the commercial edge in breeding a Merino that is suited to the environment in which its members operate.
The group has also created a ram breeding system that accelerates genetic gain through using leading industry sires and short generation intervals. The Australian Merino Society (AMS) was established in 1967 by a group of like-minded breeders in Western Australia with the common goal of “breeding sheep to maximise sheep profits per hectare”.
Today, Ashley and Lucille Hobbs who run the “Ingle” Merino Stud near Brookton in Western Australia are one of two AMS studs providing rams, not only to original group members, but to all Merino producers. To read more download the case study below.
At first glance Glen and Jayne Tilley’s property ‘Hillcott Grove’, near Tarlee in the Lower North of South Australia, is typical of the many mixed-farming enterprises in the area. But what separates the Tilleys’ operation from the pack is that the lamb enterprise is based largely on Merinos and that the selection of rams relies heavily on the use of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs). The Tilleys’ 1,850 Merino ewes are joined on ‘Hillcott Grove’ and nearby leased country, of which 1,350 are joined to Merino rams and 500 of the older ewes joined to Border Leicester rams.
“Regardless of whether we are buying Merino or Border Leicester rams, ASBVs are a critical part of our selection,” Glen said. “Using ASBVs gives me greater confidence in selecting rams to meet our breeding objective than if I were using visual selection alone.” All the wether lambs on ‘Hillcott Grove’ are sold over the hooks with a target carcase weight of 20-22kg for the Merinos and 22-24kg for the first-cross lambs, while the first-cross ewe lambs are sold to another specialist prime lamb producer. To read more download the case study below.
“Broughton Park” near Spalding in the Mid North of South Australia, has been in the Trengove family for nearly 100 years and is well known as the home of the Broughton Park Shorthorn Stud. However, with the recent sale of the Shorthorn herd and the next generation of the Trengoves taking up the reins, “Broughton Park” is moving into a new era focusing on sheep and cropping enterprises.
“Broughton Park” is currently operated by Glen and Lindley, together with their sons, Tom and Sam, and Sam’s wife Rachel. Tom, who concentrates on the sheep whilst Sam looks after the cropping operation, says that sheep have always been run on “Broughton Park” but numbers are currently being expanded.
“We currently run about 1700 ewes joined to a mixture of Merino and White Suffolk rams,” Tom said. “Our aim is to increase this to 2000, of which 1500 will be joined to Merinos.” “In the past, Broughton Park Shorthorns was a foundation member of the Shorthorn Group Breedplan,” Tom explains. “We learnt from experience with the Shorthorns that by selecting animals with the use of breeding values, much faster genetic gain could be achieved and those studs that were not involved quickly got left behind. To read more download the case study below.
Surrounding the small town of Dandaragan, in the Wheatbelt region of Western Australia, Andrew and Pauline Roberts operate a mixed sheep, cattle and cropping enterprise on “Kayanaba.” In the local aboriginal language, Dandaragan is thought to mean ‘good kangaroo country’, however with the help of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), the Roberts’ have proven that it is perhaps even better sheep country.
“Kayanaba” supports a total of 6500 ewes in a 2-way cross breeding program. 3000 Merino ewes are joined to BreedersBEST Prolific rams, a maternal composite breed utilising East Friesian, Finn, SAMM and NZ composite genetics. The resulting 1st cross ewe progeny are then joined to Poll Dorset rams to produce a lamb targeted at a 20-22kg carcase weight, at 20-22 weeks of age.
“I’ve always used ASBVs to select the Poll Dorset rams,” Andrew said. “We base our selection on the Carcase Plus Index, which has a good balance of traits and I have 100% confidence in the information used.” The Roberts, now purchase their rams from Hillcroft Farms Poll Dorset stud, near Narrogin in Western Australia. They made the change a few years ago after the original stud they purchased rams from changed ownership and stopped using ASBVs. “The Hillcroft Farms catalogue has a big selection of rams on offer that have a Carcase Plus Index of higher than 175,” Andrew said. “This means they are in the top 30% of the breed which is what we use for our cut-off.” To read more download the case study below.