UPTAKE of Merino flock genetic profiling is expected to be boosted by a free DNA sampling offer for all New South Wales ewe flock competition entrants in 2024 and free profiles for winning flocks.
Flocks entered in 2024 NSW commercial ewe competitions will receive free sampling through a partnership between the NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association, XytoVet and Coopers/Allflex.
A flock profile test genotypes 20 animals to get an idea of how a flock benchmarks to industry, expressed in Australian Sheep Breeding Values. Commercial Merino breeders can use a flock profile test to predict a flock’s genetics compared to Sheep Genetics data.
NSW SMBA president Hamish McLaren said first placegetters of each of the 18 state competitions would receive a free flock profile report that would provide valuable feedback for commercial producers.
“Every entrant in any flock ewe competition across the state can be DNA sampled for free (for a flock profile) with the winners of each competition getting a free flock profile and support from independent expert service providers after receiving their results,” he said.
“Further to that, all ewe competition entrants will be eligible for a huge discount in gaining their own flock profile from the free sampling on the day through partnerships with both Xytovet and Coopers/Allflex.”
NSW SMBA said it has endeavoured to promote technology and continual flock improvement in the industry and sees the initiative as a step in the right direction for bettering the Merino breed.
With about 150 flocks entered across all competitions each year, Mr McLaren said the partnership is a valuable opportunity for the industry to gain data from commercial producers on a large scale and across a number of regions of the state. Flock profiles will also increase the value for commercial breeders entering NSW ewe flock competitions this year.
“Entrants already receive visual feedback on their flocks through the ewe competition judging process and this new tool will allow them to gain further feedback on the genetic merit of their flocks,” Mr McLaren said.
“It’s great to be part of such a proactive movement with this new tool, which will not only assist our commercial woolgrowers in accessing the technology but also help provide support to interpret and utilise the results in their business moving forward.”
Increasing sheep profile usage
Sheep Genetics operations manager Peta Bradley said a flock profile makes it easier for producers to refine their breeding objective and select purchase rams with ASBVs that will accelerate genetic progress in their flocks.
She said a significant proportion of flock profile uptake to-date has come from commercial producers.
“Between June 2021 and July 2023 there has been a 190pc increase in the throughput of flock profile tests compared to the two-year period prior.
“This growth has come predominately from new users of the technology as well as early adopters re-testing their more recent year drop to benchmark their genetic progress.”
However, Ms Bradley said there is still significant room to increase and attract new users of flock profile and in-turn increase the usage of ASBVs in ram selection decisions.
Sheep Genetics operations manager“Further awareness of flock profile through this initiative from the NSW Stud Merino Breeders Association is anticipated to increase adoption of the flock profile product.
“This is hoped to ultimately lead to more producers having an accurate genetic benchmark of where they sit and being enabled to further refine their breeding objective based on an objective, nationally benchmarked product.”
Ms Bradley said Meat & Livestock Australia’s 2022 Genetic Insights report indicated that more than half (56pc) of sheep seedstock producers were members of Sheep Genetics.
“The percentage of commercial sheep producers that use ASBVs in their selection decisions was 57pc.
“This percentage is up from 44pc in 2020 and less than 20pc in 2016,” she said.
“This growth in commercial usage of ASBVs has been mimicked by increases in Sheep Genetics membership.
“There has been a 53pc increase in the number of MERINOSELECT members since 2016 and a 48pc increase in the number of LAMBPLAN members,” Ms Bradley said.
“This increase in the number of flocks has been achieved simultaneously with improvements in genetic gain.
“Over the same period there has been an 11pc increase in the average Dual Purpose (DP+) index.”
Coopers/Allflex central/southern NSW territory sales manager Hugh Erwin said the company is excited to be continuing its long-standing support for the NSW flock ewe competitions thruogh the introduction of genomic profiling.
“We see this as an exciting opportunity for sheep breeders to be able to benchmark their genetics and push their flocks to reach their full potential,” he said.
“Each flock will be tested through the use of Allflex’s tissue sampling units (TSUs) which provides a quick and easy DNA sampling method that is reliable, easy to transport, user friendly and is the most efficient way labs can process DNA samples.”
The genotyping services will be provided by XytoVet, Australian-owned and based in Western Australia.
XytoVet Regional Sales Manager Jack Briscoe said flock profiles would offer commercial producers “another line of information”.
“We recommend producers use this tool to benchmark their flocks around every four years,” he said.
“It’s a tool that can be used to evaluate the merit of your ram team and ewe selections over the years and ultimately map your progress at a whole flock level.”