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DNA Flock Profile proves accurate at Peter Westblade trial

Tuesday 31st of January 2017
Craig Wilson
Craig Wilson

The Peter Westblade Merino Memorial Challenge (PWMMC) has proved the accuracy of the new DNA Flock Profiler Test under development by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep CRC.

During its initial testing phase in early 2016 the Sheep CRC investigated if average genomic breeding values could be calculated for a sheep flock, even with distant or unknown relationships to the reference population.

To validate the concept animals from the PWMMC wether trial were DNA tested, with the test results aligning neatly with production values measured on the ground.

“It is extremely encouraging to see how strong the Flock Profile benchmark information has lined up with the results published for the PWMMC,” Sally Martin, director of Sally Martin Consulting said.

“This work highlights yet again the consistency between estimated breeding values and wether trial results. The Merino industry now has another tool we can use to benchmark our progress and help make more informed genetic selection decisions.” 

Sally Martin Consulting and Craig Wilson and Associates oversaw the running of the Peter Westblade Merino Memorial Challenge (PWMMC) in the Riverina of New South Wales, with the trial results again emphasising the value of objective data.

The PWMMC is a two-year genetic evaluation measuring wool, meat and growth traits of entrant's teams of wethers. The Meat Challenge measures commercially relevant carcase and meat traits under feedlot conditions, while the Wool Challenge wethers are run on pasture and analysed over two years.

The challenge is designed to assist Merino breeding operations make more informed decisions on their Merino genetics by showing participants and the wider sheep industry the genetic opportunities that exist to be more profitable.

“Consistently on the wool side we’re seeing an 80% difference in net profit between the top and the bottom teams, and on the meat side we see differences of 30-40% in carcase value,” Mr Wilson said. “And we’re also seeing in the feedlot a massive variation in weight gain, so when the average is 220g/day, the top 10% are doing 400g/day which is quite extraordinary.

“The critical thing is for people to understand what’s limiting their profitability. So for some people it could be their genetics, it could be their management, it could be the pasture that they eat.

“But if you’re making large scale investments in pasture improvements or capital expenses, and your genetics aren’t there, then you’re simply not going to make money out of those investments.

“So I see the Merino challenge as a wonderful benchmarking tool providing feedback on how different ram teams perform, and the impact of different selection decisions.”

Combining this trial information with DNA testing and the genetic selection app, RamSelect Plus, has the power to unleash rapid genetic gain for the competition’s 2017 entrants, Mr Wilson said.

“This sort of information really highlights what the strengths and weaknesses are of your genetics – it’s going to be quite evident to people that there’s upside for them to put some more fleece weight on their sheep, or to reduce their fibre diameter or to improve their growth,” he said.

“It just gives them so much more power when they go to buy their rams. Rather than just looking at their index, they can look at the traits within that index, and be more targeted in their ram selection.

“And what RamSelect has done is really simplify the process. Rather than having to go through all of the rams in the catalogue, my clients can target the rams they really need to buy and they have used it at ram sales with terrific success.”

Sheep CRC researcher Dr Tom Granleese was able to compare the average raw measurements gathered during the trail to the DNA test results of the Wool Challenge wethers.

“Strong relationships were observed for key Merino traits such as body weights, fibre diameter and fleece weights,” Dr Granleese said.

The Flock Profile test provides an estimate of the genetic merit of a flock relative to the national average.

“Results from the Flock Profile test can be used for several purposes,” Dr Granleese said. “First, to track how a producer’s flock genetically compares to animals in MerinoSelect; second, to identify genetic strengths and deficiencies in a producer’s flock for key Merino traits and indexes; and third, to identify rams on RamSelect.com.au carrying the ASBVs that will improve the genetic profile of their flock.

“Based on the preliminary tests, the Flock Profiler test looks likely to be another highly useful tool in helping Merino producers making more informed selection decisions at ram buying and mating time.” 

  • The Sheep CRC aims to make Flock Profile available to commercial Merino producers in 2017. For more information visit www.sheepcrc.org.au

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