Nutrition & Animal Health

Bianca is milking Merinos for her latest research project

Sheep Central, March 5, 2021

University of Adelaide researcher Bianca Agenbag.

MERINO milk quality and its impact on ram reproductive potential is the next project of University of Adelaide researcher Bianca Agenbag.

The PhD student is the 2021 recipient of the Australian Wool Innovation Award at the Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Bianca said while a lot of research has been done into colostrum in humans, cattle and pigs, very little has been done in sheep.

Her current research aims to change that by investigating colostrum quality in Merino ewes.

“As we started digging deeper, we figured out that colostrum doesn’t just affect the essential health of the lamb but also reproductive factors, production factors and even behaviour,” she says.

“I saw this as a massive gap in the research.”

Bianca will use the science award grant to look at the impact of colostrum on the reproductive potential of rams. It follows other research showing quality colostrum can improve scrotal growth and semen characteristics in pigs.

One of the main outcomes of her project will be developing selection criteria to select ewes with better colostrum.

“So identifying what quality colostrum is and then showing the benefits,” she explains.

“Colostrum contains all of the essential antibodies needed for the lamb to start its digestive system and gastrointestinal tract.

“Lambs are born with absolutely no antibodies of their own, so having that first drink is absolutely crucial,” she said.

The nationwide awards are organised by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment and are open to young Australians aged between 18-35 who deliver scientific research for the benefit of agriculture.

Bianca grew up on a Dorper sheep farm and loves sheep.

“But also, I really love closing the gap between industry and research.

“I’m really passionate about following through the research and then making it available and easily understandable and adaptable to farmers.”

Australian Wool Innovation chief executive Stuart McCullough says AWI is proud to be a partner of the award.

“Improving lamb survival is a key part of the wool industry’s focus on sheep welfare. It also drives recovery of the size of the national Merino flock.

AWI has a great interest in reproduction and nutrition research and development and we feed the findings into our grower training program Lifetime Ewe Management which drives up lamb and ewe survival,” he said.

“Results from LTEM are becoming important measures of the wool industry’s sustainability as well.

“The future for the Australian wool industry is a bright one with countless opportunities, research like this is all about improving animal welfare and also getting better results for Australian woolgrowers,” Mr McCullough said.

“It is a win-win situation”.

Ten other young researchers received awards covering different fields of agriculture. The recipients have been awarded funding to undertake their project over a 12-month period. The nationwide awards are organised by the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment and are open to young Australians aged between 18-35 who deliver scientific research for the benefit of agriculture.

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