GENOMIC profiling has been introduced to Merino ewe flock judging for possibly the first time, with its use in the recent Parkes Doug Bicket Memorial Maiden Ewe Competition.
The addition of DNA flock profiling to the prestigious event is believed to be the first time genomic profiling has been utilised in a ewe competition, thanks to an alliance forged between the organising committee and SheepCRC.
A focus on well-nourished Merino wool production within a mixed farming operation won the competition for the Rice family of ‘Hillview’, at Cookamidgera, north east of Forbes.
Judge Graham Wells said Rice family’s ewe team was extremely well-grown and productive.
“This team is on the cusp of being shorn three times in two years and they are going to cut a huge amount of extremely white, well-nourished merino wool.”
Co-judge Craig Wilson of Craig Wilson and Associates said the JH Rice & Co mob appeared to be extremely well-managed and are well-suited to their environment.
“They are very well-balanced and well-positioned within the industry with great fibre and carcase traits.
“They are a credit to the owners,” he said.
The Rice family are relatively new to the Merino industry, typically producing fat lambs and cattle, but have previously taken home the encouragement and second place awards in recent years.
JH Rice & Co spokesman Colin Rice paid tribute to his family and said the win was a group effort, with sons Richard, Geoff and Andrew all involved in the operation.
The Rice flock is based on Overland blood and classed by Ian Lovell. The 20 micron ewes were last shorn in June and exhibited great staple length. Geoff Rice said they were placing an emphasis on improving their wools and increasing the level of nourishment within them to better suit the mixed farming environment they were operating in.
The Milpose entry of Craig and Liz Tanswell was second place with their March shorn, Egelabra blood team. Due to be shorn the next week, the ewes impressed onlookers with the sheer volume of wool they were carrying and structural correctness displayed under the stewardship of classer Andy Mcleod.
Jack and Jenny Hoy and family took home the encouragement award. Their September-drop and May-shorn Thuruna blood ewes impressed judges with their wool quality and nourishment.
Organisers said cooler weather and “red hot” markets helped fuel interest in the competition and a flock tour attracted 65 Merino enthusiasts – double the number that normally attend.
With nine teams entered and showcased throughout the day the competition was strong and a range of Merino types and environments were observed. Long-term attendees said the overall standard of the entries had lifted dramatically in the past few years as producers refined and improved their management techniques and practices.
Competition organisers Gary O’Brien and Graeme Ostini said interest in the competition had been growing in recent years as it moved to empower entrants and local producers with new information and modern tools and technologies to bolster their profitability.
This year’s entrants all received a free DNA Flock Profile test sponsored by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), with the results provided to competitors along with the traditional visual assessments of their sheep by the judges.
“It was as good a two days as I can remember for the wool industry around Parkes in terms of producer interest and enthusiasm,” Mr Ostini said.
“The event and the inclusion of the DNA Flock Profiling technology has them very excited and thinking about how to use the information to improve their genetic selections and improve their business.
“Here are technologies that aren’t way out in the future anymore, but are at their fingertips.”
All entrants received a detailed presentation on the technology by Sheep CRC Training Coordinator Lu Hogan last Thursday, including advice on how to use the results in combination with the web-based app RamSelect to find rams to address the genetic improvement opportunities identified in their DNA test results. All nine teams returned positive genomic test results when compared with the national flock average.
The Sheep CRC’s DNA Flock Profile Test involves randomly sampling 20 young ewes for DNA testing, with genetic links then identified with animals of known breeding values from the Information Nucleus database. These linkages support a prediction of the flock’s average breeding values, which are then scaled to Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for major Merino traits, such as yearling weight, fleece weight and fibre diameter, as well as the indices for Fibre Production, Merino Production and Dual Purpose.
JH Rice & Co farm manager Richard Rice, of “Hillview”, Cookamidgera, said the test was a great addition to the competition, with the results identifying an opportunity to select more heavily for weaner weight in future, as well as confirming that their focus on body weight and fleece weight in recent years had in fact paid dividends.
“After we received the results and spoke with Lu Hogan, I was very pleased that I had put myself up to be involved and it will really help with our next steps in ram selection and breeding decisions,” Mr Rice said.
Together with father Colin and brothers Andrew and Geoffrey, Mr Rice joins about 1500 ewes to Merino rams each year and a further 500 to Terminal sires, with Overland rams selected on a combination of visual assessment and the stud’s own performance recording records.
The DNA Flock Profile test was able to benchmark the Rice family flock’s performance against ASBV standards based on the relatedness of the Overland genetics to the database’s reference population.
“As we have done to improve our grain growing, our strategy is to look at the top producers and see what they are doing and try to emulate their practices wherever it’s possible within our business,” Mr Rice said.
He intends to repeat the DNA Flock Profile test every three to four years to continue to track the impact of genetic selections and identify areas for improvement in his flock’s performance.