Sheep CRC's New Chair - Ian Wilton
Sheep CRC's New Chair - Ian Wilton

From the Homestead

At the AGM on 15 November Ian Wilton’s selection as Chair was confirmed by the Members.  In welcoming Ian to his new role it is important to thank Duncan Fraser for the huge contribution that he made to the CRC during his three-year term.

The Program Leader presentations at the Participants’ Forum confirmed that we continue to make good progress towards delivering the outcomes that we set out to achieve.  It is very encouraging to be in this position as we enter the final 18 months and turn our attention to utilisation of CRC products.

A new initiative that we are currently planning, with input from AMPC, aims to use information produced by ASKBILL to better manage lamb and sheep meat supply in the face of variable seasonal conditions.  Schedules for the project agreement have been finalised and we expect to start work by mid-December. 

One of our recent challenges has been the recruitment of software developers for the accelerated completion of ASKBILL and for upgrades to other programs.  By early 2018 we expect to have a full complement of specialist staff and this puts us on track for the launch of ASKBILL in late April.

The 17th annual postgraduate conference and professional development program was held from 7-10 November and was another impressive event.  Congratulations to Graham Gardner for his outstanding leadership of this program.  Something for us all to work on is continuation of this training program beyond the life of the CRC!

This will be the final newsletter for 2017 and provides an important opportunity to thank everybody who has worked as part of the CRC and those collaborators who have supported our activities in so many ways.  Keep an eye out for our desk-top calendars.  Rhonda is in the process of finalising the design and we hope to post them out in time for Christmas.

Enhanced sheep wellbeing and productivity

Changes to ASKBILL to address the comments received from trial users are currently being released to the development site for final checking prior to release to trial users.  These changes include:

  • reducing the number of alerts and providing the option for users to set the frequency of alerts;
  • setting of live weight and condition score targets separated out as a stand-alone function;
  • changes to stock descriptions to improve ease of use;
  • risk displays to show the previous 9 months (rather than previous 3 months) and the forecast 3 months as the default screen;
  • changes to the what-if tools to make them easier to locate and use; and
  • incorporation of a tool that adjusts the soil fertility slider on the basis of soil test results. 

There are many more changes that are still working their way through the system.  The validation project continues on the 11 properties in WA, SA and NSW with staff and consultants active in pasture sampling and livestock measurements. The CRC is also running a number of webinars with service providers to develop a greater understanding of the predictive models used in ASKBILL.   

Clarity in the operational delivery of improved weather forecasts from the Bureau of Meteorology has allowed the CRC to schedule the commercial release of ASKBILL for the 2nd half of April 2018.

Quality-based sheepmeat value chains

Progress with LMY measurement and feedback

Work is ongoing with DEXA and the calibration studies are underway. Hook tracking is now working well in the Victorian abattoirs – and we expect Bordertown to be operational by late December 2017.

The AMPC project for making a new GR probe, will see two ‘Iceprobes’ delivered by Christmas. Testing will commence in first half of 2018.

The updated lamb value calculator has been released and includes a beta butchers’ version that will be further refined in 2018.

Progress with IMF measurement

Three cameras have arrived from Frontmatec and a meeting is planned with Frontmatec for late December 2017.

The work undertaken by NSW DPI (Steph Fowler) has shown some potential for NIR measurement of IMF in ‘hot’ lamb carcases. The work needs expansion as currently a cut surface is still needed, plus we are seeking a primary manufacturing company to improve the likelihood of success.

Sensory testing update

The USA grass/grain and short vs long aged product is completed.  The initial results should be available in February 2018.

Rachel O’Reilly (Murdoch University) has completed the analysis of the China hot pot cooking method sensory responses. This method places 1.6mm slices of lamb and sheep meat from leg/forequarter in boiling water for two minutes. Forequarter were preferred to leg cuts, and lamb was still better than hogget/young mutton. Moreover, there was a positive response to IMF measured in the loin and a negative response to a simple index of muscularity (LMY).

Upcoming meetings

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

Faster, affordable genetic gain

Association studies and prediction

We are working on a list of predictive SNPs that can be added to the low density SNP chip that is currently used by industry. These additional SNPs will help to achieve more accurate predictions.  We will work with Geneseek to develop the SNP list over the next couple of months.  We aim to identify around 1000 additional SNPs and their inclusion is expected to improve accuracy of prediction by around five percentage points.

In collaboration with Sydney University we have identified SNPs related to disease.  One is a genetic defect, CVS (Cervicothoracic vertebral subluxation), identified in an Australian stud.  The other is a region strongly associated with breech strike.  In a group of half siblings, five sheep consistently had breech strike while the other sheep had no breech strike.  It appears that the difference may be related to a particular haplotype passed on from the sire. The initial information comes from a small hobby flock and the result will need to be followed up with some INF data that will hopefully provide additional evidence. 

We have contacted more maternal breed flocks that record reproduction traits so these sheep can be genotyped (within MLA’s Resource Flock project). The hope is that we will be able to estimate breeding values for reproduction traits early next year. Although predictions are expected to have low accuracy we have shown that the new information is likely to have a significant impact on reproductive efficiency.

Two papers have recently been submitted for publication.  One paper on prediction of horned phenotypes and another reporting strategies for eradicating horns from a closed nucleus flock.

RamSelect and Flock Profiling

AGBU and Sheep Genetics are close to completing an automated pipeline for calculation of Flock Profile results. This will reduce the manual requirements for processing the test results and clear the way for delivery to RamSelect through the API. 

A multi-pronged strategy has been developed to increase use of RamSelect and Flock Profiling in the coming year. We will work with ram breeders and their clients, service providers, breeder groups and stock and station agencies to promote Flock Profiling as an important tool to benchmark the ewe flock. Combined with ram team data, this information can be integrated in RamSelect to set benchmarks for future ram searches and purchases.

The integrated approach will include YouTube, social media and general media activities to highlight the benefits from understanding the genetic basis of your flock to using this information to set future breeding objectives and ram buying strategies.

Sheep DNA office

From early December we anticipate that all Parentage tests, and most likely all 15K genomic tests, will be processed by GeneSeek Australasia located at UQ Gatton. This constitutes a significant step forward for the industry as turnaround times will be reduced and the risks associated with posting samples to the US removed.

We have recruited a new staff member, Andrea Simpson, to work in the Sheep DNA office to help with the increased numbers of test orders. A staff training day was held on 29 November and this provided an opportunity to examine ways in which we can improve the service.


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