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Waiting to join MERINOSELECT only delays the genetic gains

Thursday 19th of February 2015

The only regret Michael Corkhill has about adopting Australian Sheep Breed Values (ASBVs) is that he didn’t do it earlier, as demand grows from commercial breeders for objective selection data.

Mr Corkhill, who runs the Grassy Creek Merino Stud at Boorowa, NSW, said his commercial clients have been reporting immediate improvements in their flock after using ASBVs in their ram selection process, prompting him to take his stud to the next level by joining MERINOSELECT last year.

"I put the first lot of numbers into MERINOSELECT last year and my only regret is that we didn’t do it years ago," he said.

"My generation of sheep breeder is looking for numbers in the form of ASBVs – particularly for fertility and fleece weight – to match where their breeding is going and that’s what they’re asking for from us.

"I know a number of commercial breeders who are regularly surfing the Sheep Genetics website and looking through MERINOSELECT data so that they can pick out the rams that meet their specific needs."

Mr Corkhill started breeding at the age of 17, progressively improving his small flock by artificially inseminating 40 to 60 ewes each year. By 2003 he was selling rams, with enough early success to register as a stud in 2005.

By 2007 his sheep were in the show ring, winning a string of major awards, supporting growth in his stud to the point that he hosted his first on-property sale in 2012.

As well as a commercial wool-growing operation, he now runs approximately 1000 stud ewes, with AI used to join about 500 to 600 a year and embryo transfer programs also used.

But in order to take his stud to the next level he realised that additional data was needed to assist his commercial clients in making more informed and targeted decisions about ram selections.

"Joining MERINOSELECT has been a learning curve for us, but an enjoyable learning curve as we’re actually finding out more about our own sheep and where their strengths and weaknesses are," Mr Corkhill said.

"We’ve always had an indexing system, using fleece weight, micron and body weight – collecting data was nothing new to us, we’re now just collecting a bit more data on things like post weaning weight.

"People shouldn’t be concerned about the MERINOSELECT process – it’s a good system and it’s consistently delivering results. 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

"The turnaround breeders can achieve in their sheep in a short period by targeting different indexes is just amazing."

Hamish Chandler, manager of Sheep Genetics which administers the MERINOSELECT program, said an increasing number of studs were providing ASBVs in response to demand from commercial producers and to improve specific genetic traits in their own flocks.

"MERINOSELECT is now accepted as a tool that works well, provides quick and consistent improvements, and should be part of breeders’ decision making process when selecting rams," Mr Chandler said.

MERINOSELECT is delivered through Sheep Genetics, the national genetic evaluation services for the Australian sheep industry, which calculates ASBVs for recorded sheep.

ASBVs provide breeders an estimate of the genetic potential a sheep will pass on to its progeny for a range of economically important traits. ASBVs account for the environmental effects, allowing the comparison of sheep based on the genes they will pass on to their progeny.

Mr Corkhill said gathering the animal measurements needed to join MERINOSELECT had only required a limited amount of extra work, as he had already been collecting most of information required, including parentage, fleece weight, fibre diameter, and weight for age.

He has been assisted by Sally Martin Consulting in preparing the data for submission to MERINOSELECT, and from Craig Wilson & Associates in interpreting the data to improve their own selection decisions at joining.

"We assist studs new to MERINOSELECT in collating the data into the format required by Sheep Genetics, which in turn ensures that MERINOSELECT can provide meaningful information back to sheep breeders," Mrs Martin said.

She said the process would vary from flock to flock, with a key area of assistance being preparation of a calendar for collecting data within existing management activities, and advice on data gathering tools, such as electronic identification, which fit their needs.

Sheep Genetics offers a free ‘try before you buy’ service for ram breeders interested in learning more about MERINOSELECT.

Advice on how to join MERINOSELECT is available www.sheepgenetics.org.au . More information on how producers are using ASBVs as part of their breeding program is available at www.sheepcrc.org.au

Media contact: Michael Thomson on 07 4927 0805 / 0408 819 666

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