Keeping accurate records of his ram teams has allowed South Gippsland second-cross lamb producer Paul O’Sullivan to benchmark his business against industry averages and to refine his genetic selections to take flock productivity to the next level.
Mr O’Sullivan was impressed by the benchmarking capabilities of the new RamSelect Plus app when it was launched at LambEx by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), and promptly took the opportunity to find out where his flock stood and how it could be improved.
The web-based app is available on laptop, mobile and tablet at www.ramselect.com.au, and allows sheep breeders to search the ram market for animals that carry genetic traits important to the user’s business. A recent upgrade to the app included new functionality to allow users to benchmark their ram teams and new ram selections against industry averages and track the impact of their rams over time.
“Having more objective data that we can collect and use in making decisions is just fantastic,” Mr O’Sullivan said. “All I had to do was provide the ram tag numbers for our ram teams from the last five years, and the Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) used to do the benchmarking were then drawn automatically from Sheep Genetics.”
Mr O’Sullivan and wife Jenny run a 680-hectare mixed cattle and sheep breeding operation at Tarwin Lower in Victoria’s high-rainfall South Gippsland region. They join 2300 first-cross ewes each year for lambing in August, turning off 3000-plus lambs in January and February targeting the market specifications for supply to Coles.
The benchmarking exercise revealed that the rams Mr O’Sullivan had been purchasing were slightly above industry average for growth rate and birth weight, but not quite as good they wanted for shear force (tenderness).
“We have put a lot of emphasis on grazing strategies to maximise the growth of our lambs, but the benchmarking analysis has showed us that there is also plenty of potential there for us to increase the genetic capacity of our rams as another option for further improving the growth rates of our lambs,” he said.
“We’re in the situation where we’re paid on weight and fat cover so those traits have been the key things we have been targeting, but as an industry we need to be paying more attention to eating quality as well, so now we are looking for rams that deliver on growth, fat and tenderness.”
The advent of RamSelect was timely for the O’Sullivan’s after their long-term ram supplier dispersed earlier this year, prompting a rethink of their ram buying strategy.
“I had been dealing with a ram breeder in North East Victoria who I trusted to select the right rams to meet our specifications – we provided him with a price range and our target market and he would present us with 12-15 rams that we would visually inspect before selecting the team we wanted.
“But now that we’re looking for a new ram breeder and we’ve got a better understanding of the rams we’ve been using, we’ve taken the step of developing our own customised breeding objective to use on RamSelect to identify the rams we need to take us to the next level.”
The exercise also prompted Mr O’Sullivan to rethink the price he is willing to pay for rams in order to take his flock to the next level.
“I’ve always had a bit of reluctance to paying too much for rams but this exercise has probably crystallised for me that if we are going to take the next step up in terms of genetic gain, then I’m going to have to spend more than we have been in the past,” he said.
Mr O’Sullivan has since used the app to develop two lists of rams available from within Victoria – one using his customised breeding objective and another using the Carcase Plus Index settings on RamSelect for comparison.
“The selection criteria on RamSelect are really good in terms of being able to target your search by breed and location for rams with the specs you’re looking for. I’ve now made contact with a ram breeder and I’m looking forward to visually inspecting those rams that meet my criteria.”
The O’Sullivan’s also operate a small agri-tourism venture aimed primarily at improving consumer awareness of agricultural practices and the use of technology like RamSelect to improve eating quality will add another string to that bow, Mr O’Sullivan said.
“It’s an important aspect of our activities to get the message out there that farming is a good, progressive industry to be part of,” he said.
The Sheep CRC operates as part of the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s CRC program. It is a collaboration of over 40 organisations from across industry, government and the commercial sector, and includes producer groups, farm advisers, universities and research organisations, meat processors and retailers.
It developed the web-based app in conjunction with Telstra, NSW DPI, and Pivotal Labs, and is underpinned by objective data from Sheep Genetics in the form of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) from MERINOSELECT, LAMBPLAN and DOHNE. The recent upgrade to RamSelect was implemented by the CRC’s new app development team based at UNE.
More information is available at www.sheepcrc.org.au.
Media contact: Michael Thomson, 0408 819 666