DEVELOPING a flock with the right mix of genetics can take generations to perfect, but DNA testing has put Geelong sheep and wool producer Jack Briscoe on the fast track to success.
Mr Briscoe is only a year into breeding his own Merino flock after branching out from his sheep contracting business by cobbling together a mixture of 800 home-bred and yard-bought ewes as his breeding base.
Rather than using a best guess to identify suitable rams to breed a more uniform drop, Mr Briscoe has been able to identify precisely the strengths and weaknesses of his flock using the Sheep CRC’s DNA Flock Profile Test.
“Like everyone starting off from scratch, I want to make progress quickly so the first thing I needed to know was details of the base that we’re starting off with in terms of fleece weight, body weight, growth rates etc, to make our genetic improvement program as streamlined as possible,” Mr Briscoe said.
“So I organised to do the DNA Flock Profile testing and from here I can really use Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) to my advantage.
“I’ve been back to my stud and together we have worked out a five-year plan of attack about where we’re going to go with the flock and with our ram selections.”
Click on above link to watch a short video explaining how Mr Briscoe has used the DNA flock profile test to fast track his breeding goals.
Mr Briscoe and wife Karen run a mixed farming operation south of Geelong which compromises of cropping, Merinos, prime lambs and Kelpie breeding.
Mr Briscoe also runs a data collection company for local sheep producers which includes linking eID with fleece weights, micron, body weights, and pregnancy scanning.
This focus on objective data to improve decision making meant the step into DNA testing was a natural progression for Mr Briscoe, who was so surprised by the ease of the process and the value of the information from the test that he is already recommending the practice to his clients.
“It’s so simple and easy to do,” Mr Briscoe said. “When you get the pack it tells you exactly how to take your random samples, and everything is clean and effective.”
The test involves randomly sampling 20 young ewes for DNA testing, with genetic links then linked 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 selection indexes for Fibre Production, Merino Production and Dual Purpose production.
The test results have put Mr Briscoe on the front foot in developing a breeding strategy to improve his flock’s productivity and achieve his objective of breeding easy-care sheep that can be weaned early, have a good growth rate, and yield as much wool as possible per acre.
“From the DNA test results I could see that on average my micron was right up there above average, which was great, but I could also see that my fleece weight was down, so that’s the first thing that we’re going to work on with my stud when selecting rams using ASBVs,” Mr Briscoe said.
“I see this as a great partnership I can take on with my stud so that we can actually look at the sheep not only in a physical sense but we can understand where the whole mob is and the most effective way to use my ram team purchase each year.”
His broader goals are to lift weaning weight, number of lambs weaned, and fat coverage, as well as fleece weight as he moves towards six monthly shearing.
Mr Briscoe plans to use the DNA Flock Profile Test results in conjunction with the Sheep CRC’s RamSelect app, which he says will give him greater confidence that he is selecting exactly the right genetics to meet his breeding objective.
“I think it’s important that you don’t turn up to a ram sale the day before or on the day of the event, without a clear sense of direction,” Mr Briscoe said.
“I can go onto RamSelect and instead of chasing some unrealistic goals, I can now put those sliders to exactly what I need for my breeding objective instead of what I thought I needed.
“I can then work with my stud three months in advance before the ram sales and look at the individual rams to make up our syndicate team so that the money I spend will really make leaps and bounds for us.”
Mr Briscoe said the benefits on offer from the combination of DNA Flock Profiling and RamSelect were too good for other producers to ignore.
“The other producers I’m working with are asking me ‘how do we jump on board?’ It’s just one small step but it’s an easy step and it’s something that anyone can do.”