From the Homestead

The new year has started strongly with the commencement of the new AMPC project focusing on management of lamb supply under variable climatic conditions.  We are also working on details of our final Planning Meeting scheduled for 20-21 March in Sydney.

In preparation for the final Planning Meeting we have been analysing progress and impact in each of our program areas.  It is particularly pleasing to see good progress in the uptake of MERINOSELECT and the use of genomic technologies.  A report on the growing impact of MERINOSELECT is available on the CRC website under ‘Publications and Resources’.

The launch of ASKBILL is on track for April and the new version will include a number of significant features including the 90-day weather forecast and improved user interface, together with a range of new predictive functions.

The meat program is also making excellent progress in supporting the introduction and calibration of the DEXA measurement of lean meat yield.  An accurate measurement system for intramuscular fat, as a predictor of eating quality, remains an ongoing challenge.

We welcome Cathy Hayne as a new Director and Chair of the Finance & Compliance Committee.  Cathy has an impressive accounting background as well as extensive sheep industry experience through her fine wool Merino operation.  Cathy will be filling the casual vacancy resulting from Ian Wilton’s appointment as Chair and her appointment will be ratified at the March General Meeting.

There has been further discussion with Sheep Producers Australia about post-CRC transition arrangements and we hope to have a proposal for Participants to review prior to the March General Meeting. 

If there are any opportunities or challenges you feel the CRC should focus on during the final year of our operation, please discuss these with me or any of the Program Leaders prior to the annual Planning Meeting scheduled for 20-21 March 2018.


Enhanced sheep wellbeing and productivity

The ASKBILL team continues to implement improvements in response to observations and feedback from the validation sites and from trial users.  For example, the rate of disappearance of dead annual plant material following heavy summer storms is now better accommodated in the pasture model. 

ASKBILL users will soon be able to select the ram and ewe breed to better inform the animal growth model and enable more accurate growth forecasts. The output from ASKBILL has now moved beyond live weight to include carcase weight and GR fat, as well as greasy fleece weight.  These changes are being implemented and tested prior to release.

The database that stores the data collected from the 11 validation farms has been completed and analysis to check the accuracy of ASKBILL forecasts will be evaluated in the coming months.  Given the scale of the data collection on the validation farms and the complexity of the database, this is a significant achievement.

Quality-based sheepmeat value chains

Progress with LMY measurement and feedback

The AMPC project for making a new GR probe is dependent on acquisition of two ‘Iceprobes’ that have still not been delivered.

Progress with IMF measurement

Approximately 600 lamb ‘eye muscle’ images have been taken with the Frotmatec camera to assist with ‘training’ the camera to estimate IMF. The cameras were sent back to Denmark in late Dec 2017 for some fine tuning and will be returned in February 2018 for further image collection scheduled for the MLA resource flock lambs.

Negotiations are still underway with a photonics company in the US to further develop NIR and hyperspectral capabilities.

Sensory testing update

The USA grass/grain and short- vs long-aged product testing has been completed.  Initial results suggest no negative impacts of extended aging (45 days), even in lamb meat derived from carcases that were electrically stimulated.

Upcoming meetings

The following meetings will be important prior to the Planning Meeting on 21-22 March 2018:

  • Lamb/beef Supply Chain group, 13-14 March 2018
  • Sheepmeat Task Force meeting, 15 March 2018.

Faster, affordable genetic gain

There are two key activities to improve the usefulness of genomic information.  The first is to identify predictive SNPs that can be added to the 15k array; the second is to determine SNPs predictive of ‘deleterious recessives’ and their importance.

There is good progress in identifying predictive SNPs and the first paper on additional accuracy from inclusion of new SNPs is nearly ready to be submitted.

Using whole genome sequence data of Merino, Border Leicester and Poll Dorset breeds, more than 9,000 potentially lethal mutations have been identified. To prioritise this long list, an index called “Lethal Index” was calculated for each mutation according to the allelic frequency, functional annotation and proximity to any gene in the catalogue of human genes and genetic disorders and traits (OMIM). This lethal index is now being used to identify the markers that should be given priority for SNP chip development.  We are also using reproduction data to study mutation and survival rate of the lambs for sires with possible lethal genes.

The team is still following up some leads on genetic factors that might protect against flystrike.

There are also a number of large genotyping projects underway and Tom Granleese is involved in developing modelling and cost-benefit approaches. 

Several project proposals have gone in to MLA/MDC Genetics consortium.  These proposals are important for the transition of CRC research activities.

Two postgraduate students are finishing up with us this month: Bruno Santos and Mohammad Zaher al Kalaldeh. We wish them all the best for their future.

RamSelect and Flock Profiling

There are currently 12 paid catalogues on the RamSelect site - 9 for the upcoming New England sales.

Searches on the site have increased from about 30 to 80 per week since the listing of the New England catalogues. RamSelect display advertisements have been provided at the Yalgoo Field Day and the Nerstane ram sale.

A training session on RamSelect , ram team manager and flock profiling was also provided at the Cressbrook client day in December. Training sessions have been arranged for three groups in WA, one Best Wool Best Lamb group in Victoria and the Parkes Ewe Trial.

Sheep DNA Testing

Development of the new web portal for ordering DNA tests is progressing well, with the majority of functionality now in place and the homepages designed.

Further testing is required before the new ordering system is operational by end of February.


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