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New era ahead for technology focussed sheep industry

Thursday 10th of July 2014

Adoption of new technology is driving significant productivity gains in the sheep industry, with new research set to accelerate the use of DNA testing and flock management tools.

Researchers, producers and meat processors told today’s Sheep CRC Concept to Impact conference in Adelaide, that DNA testing was already delivering superior sheep carrying the genes which determine the eating quality of lamb on supermarket shelves.

And over the next five years the Sheep CRC will pursue full genome sequencing to deliver producers with cheaper and faster DNA tests that can identify a wider range of traits that drive flock productivity.

"This is an exciting time to be part of the Australian sheep industry, with adoption of technology now reaching a tipping point that could result in major improvements to flock performance over the years ahead," Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said.

The new research agenda for the Sheep CRC was officially launched at the conference by the Federal Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Bob Baldwin, who said the CRC’s success so far in delivering practical research was due to its effective collaboration with industry.

Operating as part of the Federal Department of Industry’s CRC program, the Sheep CRC is a collaboration of 38 Participants from industry, government and the commercial sector.

It is working to increase the productivity and profitability of the industry through adoption of new technologies in both the meat and wool supply chains.

The Concept to Impact conference also heard from speakers including Victorian producer and Nuffield scholar Matthew Ipsen, who said adoption of CRC research in the area of pregnancy scanning of ewes was delivering higher lambing percentages.

"A lambing percentage of 80 per cent is not enough to provide a breeder with replacement ewes as well as generate the selection pressure needed to improve the quality of a flock," Mr Ipsen said.

"Pregnancy scanning helps producers increase their lambing percentages by providing the information they need to remove barren ewes from the flock and ensure available nutrition is matched to the pregnancy status of ewes."

NSW producer Murray Long, of Pendarra White Suffolks, told the conference DNA testing was saving his operation time and money by quickly identifying superior sheep for his breeding program.

"Genomics is not only a way of breeding more productive sheep and ultimately making lamb more appealing to consumers, but I can use genomics to make my management a lot easier and a lot more streamlined and that’s really exciting," Mr Long said. The CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation is co-funded under the Commonwealth Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program Transforming wool, meat and the sheep that produce them

Prof. Rowe said the research agenda for the next five years included work with the sheepmeat supply chain to ensure that improvements in eating quality could be identified and its value recognised.

"We will also be working to develop flock monitoring systems for use in large-scale operations so that producers can identify individual animals at risk of compromised health and well-being, so that they can intervene early and manage their flocks accordingly," Prof. Rowe said. 

Caption: Sheep CRC Chief Executive James Rowe.

Media contact: Michael Thomson, Cox Inall Communications, 0408 819 666

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