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Tech-savvy students drive Farrer High to the top of RamSelect

Monday 5th of December 2016
Farrer Memorial Agricultural students Thomas Nairne, Cameron Ninness, Hagan Size, Matthew Baldwin take blood samples for DNA testing of their stud White Suffolk flock.
Farrer Memorial Agricultural students Thomas Nairne, Cameron Ninness, Hagan Size, Matthew Baldwin take blood samples for DNA testing of their stud White Suffolk flock.

Listing their catalogue via the RamSelect Plus app has showcased the value of early adoption of new breeding technologies and opened new markets for the students at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School.

Based in Tamworth NSW, the school’s agriculture subject offering includes a Year 9 and 10 ‘animal management course’, in which students take on the tasks associated with running the Farrer White Suffolk stud.

In delivering the course stud manager Darren Smith has deliberately introduced the students to the latest in flock management and breeding technologies, including the use of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), DNA testing, optimising joining decisions using MateSel and now marketing via the RamSelect Plus app.

The result of this early-adoption strategy has been the breeding of rams now ranked at the very top of White Suffolk breed for the new Lamb Eating Quality index (LEQ).

“We’ve been focussed on high performance genetics and the use of measurement ever since we started back in 1984,” Mr Smith said. “We’re trying to incorporate as much technology as we can in the program, be that artificial insemination, embryo transfer, Superwhites, DNA testing, eID or the RamSelect app – we will use all the programs we possible can to enhance the stud and to enhance the learning of the students.

“I keep looking out for the next thing to bring in because the students are pretty quick at picking up on new technology and putting it to use.”

The DNA tests and the RamSelect Plus app used by Farrer were developed by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC). The Sheep CRC operates as part of the Federal Department of Industry, Innovation and Science’s CRC program and is a collaboration of more than 40 organisations from across industry, government and the commercial sector, and includes producer groups, farm advisers, universities and research organisations, meat processors and retailers.

Farrer has been among the earliest and most active adopters of new technologies developed by the CRC. This year all 130 of its mature stud ewes, as well as next year’s 60 replacement ewes, will be DNA tested to identify those carrying superior genetics for “the traits you can’t see” such as intramuscular fat and shear force, which determine the eating quality of lamb carcases.

“We want to know which animals have these characteristics so that we can more accurately select rams and make more productive joinings,” Mr Smith said. “We’re relying on the technology to tell us which ones are worth keeping and which ones need improving.”

The ewes are joined by artificial insemination (AI) to rams selected using LAMBPLAN data filtered for low birthweight, high worm resistance and high meat eating quality.

Mr Smith said semen sires were not purchased from a particular stud, but were selected based their ability to meet the selection criteria set out in their breeding objective.

“That’s where ASBV data is such a great resource for finding the right rams for your flock. In fact, we’re not averse to occasionally using a ram from a competing breed, such as a Poll Dorset, if they meet our criteria and can keep our genetic base diverse and improving,” he said.

“We were originally selecting semen sires using the Carcase Plus index, but moved on to using the Lamb 2020 index because we wanted to place more emphasis on birth weight and worm resistance.

“We’ve been making good progress selecting on the Lamb 2020 index, but we’ve now reached a point that we’re having trouble finding rams that will take us forward – for this reason, and because we want to add selection emphasis for eating quality, this year we have changed to selecting rams using the Lamb 2020 + Eating Quality index.”

The approach has also paid dividends on market day – rams are sold at an annual on-property auction, which this year topped at $9000 and averaged $1842 for 71 rams.

The Farrer team do not overlook teaching the students the importance of visual assessment, with all rams offered for sale independently evaluated for structural soundness by a LAMBPLAN assessor.

“The sale has been growing steadily over the years, and this year RamSelect.com.au made a big difference to the level of inquiry we received, with buyers contacting us from all over Australia,” Mr Smith said.

After listing on RamSelect, Mr Smith said he received numerous calls from new prospective bidders, mostly from the commercial sector, including four breeders from Western Australia.


Media contact: Michael Thomson, 0408 819 666.

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