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Ram team recording drives improvements for Kangaroo Island flock

Monday 12th of December 2016

Keeping detailed and accurate ram team records has driven a flock transformation for Kangaroo Island Merino breeder Keith Bolto and proved why the new features offered on the RamSelect Plus app are a winner for commercial producers.

About a decade ago the Bolto family began selecting rams for use in their flock, based on objective measurement information, and about five years ago began performance recording their own rams and the top 200 ewes in their breeding nucleus, in order to compare their home-bred rams with those on the open market.

It was a move which Mr Bolto says has been the key to accelerating the rate of improvement to their business’s profit drivers. Since 2000, the flock average micron diameter has fallen from 23 to 18.5m in 2015, while at the same time fleece weight has been maintained at 6-6.5kg per adult sheep, all thanks to improved genetic selection decisions.

“We’re actually seeing an even faster improvement in our nucleus flock, but there is a lag before we see that improvement flow through our commercial flock so my hope is we’ll see some significant changes in our commercial production over the next five years,” Mr Bolto said.

This year RamSelect Plus app added a series of new features to allow commercial sheep producers to keep track of the genetic merit of the rams they are using.  The new ram team manager section makes it easy for producers to save information on the rams they purchase each year and benchmark their ram teams and new ram selections against industry averages.   This allows them to track the impact of their rams over time using a series of ram team management tools. It is very easy to enter data on current and past rams and keep the list up to date by automatically saving new purchases.

Using this new tracking and benchmark tool, ram buyers can make more informed and targeted selections using the RamSelect app to ensure new genetics will advance their flock and meet their breeding objectives.

“RamSelect is the perfect tool for buying rams because you can simply enter the traits you’re looking for,” Mr Bolto said. “It’s a great tool for comparing rams to find out which ones offer value and which ones will do the job for your business.

“I use RamSelect to compare our home-bred rams to those I could source in the market, which helps me measure the success or failure of our ram breeding program, and to put a value on our home bred rams in terms of how much it would cost me to purchase rams with similar ASBVs on the open market.”

The web-based app was developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) 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.

Mr Bolto said the improved productivity of his family’s flock was proof of the value of recording ram team data and managing rams as a team rather than individuals.

“Every year I average the ram teams for their fleece weight and fibre diameter ASBVs – the average is the main figure I care about,” Mr Bolto said.

“The higher the averages for my ram team the higher the performance of my whole flock. The flock can only improve at the same rate as the average of the ram team, regardless of how good your best ram is.”

Mr Bolto farms in partnership with his brother Colin and his parents Trevor and Lyn, on a 1750-hectare property with an annual rainfall of 500mm. The wool-growing business runs 5000 Merino ewes, with 17,000 head shorn each year at a clip average of 18.5 micron.

In breeding rams for their own purpose, the nucleus flock has been performance recorded using the Breed Elite software developed by Greg Johnsson, with data then submitted to Sheep Genetics to produce ASBVs. The nucleus flock is improved via an artificial insemination program with semen purchased based on ASBVs.

“Our breeding program has a strong selection emphasis on fleece weight and fibre diameter, which are our key economic drivers and we need to know that we’re using rams that will make a difference both in the nucleus and right across the flock,” Mr Bolto said.

Before using breeding values to help manage the selection of their ram team, they would replace about 20 older rams each year on a cast for age basis, a method Mr Bolto said failed to evaluate whether the incoming rams were actually superior to those being retired.

“We now have 170-odd rams to choose from each year and we line them all up and compare their ASBVs to pick the top 100 to go to work on our commercial flock,” Mr Bolto said.

“As a result we’re now bringing in more young rams into our team – about 40 new rams per year in our team of 100 – which is accelerating the rate of our genetic improvement.”


Media contact: Michael Thomson, 0408 819 666.


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