Merino flocks cut wrinkle as terminal breeders lift carcases

Sheep Central, March 13, 2024


















AUSTRALIA’S Merino seedstock suppliers are increasingly using genetic analysis to breeding sheep with fewer breech wrinkles, balanced with early growth and fleece weight.

And improvement in the rate of gain for intramuscular fat and lean meat yield Australian Sheep Breeding Values show terminal sheep are being bred for meat quality and quantity.

Whether to avoid flystrike or breed a non-mulesed sheep, Meat & Livestock Australia’s Sheep Genetics Annual Outcomes Report for 2022-2023 released today shows that the genetic trend in Merino flocks is toward a plainer sheep.

Sheep Genetics manager Peta Bradley said in the MERINOSELECT analysis, for the reporting period, there was a 15 percent reduction in breech wrinkle meaning that the trend is towards a plainer sheep.

“We have seen a significant increase in the volume of data being submitted on breech wrinkle over the last five years,” she said.

“This has meant that there are more animals with a breech wrinkle ASBV.

“This is coupled with more people incorporating breech wrinkle into their objective,” she said.

“We are seeing this drive in the favourable trend in breech wrinkle.”

Breech wrinkle ranked as important

Ms Bradley said the report doesn’t delve into the reason why traits are included in a breeder’s objective. But Figures 108-110 in the insights report show that breech wrinkle does rank as a relatively important trait in people’s selection.

Improved ASBVs in reproduction, growth and fleece weight

The report also showed Merino producers are lifting the reproduction of their flocks as well as genetic potential for early growth and fleece weights.

Ms Bradley said the breech wrinkle ASBV improvement has been balanced with improved ASBVs in key production areas including reproduction, growth, and fleece weights.

“The genetic trends show that there are favourable movements in reproduction, growth and fleece weight traits i.e. they are all going in the right direction.

“ASBVs are enabling producers to simultaneously select for key production traits including those where an antagonistic relationship exists, e.g. fleece weight and early breech wrinkle. Both are moving in a favourable direction.”

Ms Bradley said there has been significant growth across Sheep Genetics MERINOSELECT and LAMABPLAN analyses.

“The increase of entry into MERINSOELECT is greater.

As highlighted in the report, we are now getting a similar number of animals submitted into both, but have fewer Merino flocks, meaning that MERINOSELECT flocks are, on average, larger than LAMBPLAN flocks.”

Record number of genotypes in Sheep 2022-2023 evaluations

The Sheep Genetics report highlights that the Australian sheep flock is continuing to experience genetic gain, driven by ongoing growth in the Sheep Genetics program.

MLA reported that the Sheep Genetics program saw a record number of genotypes submitted for evaluations. This increase in genotyping as well as a range of other Sheep Genetics activities has underpinned the increase in genetic gain across all industry indexes, MLA said.

During this same period a record number of new animals were submitted to both the MERINOSELECT and LAMPLAN evaluations with more than 420,000 animals submitted during this period. This was the largest submission in a 12-month period since the establishment of Sheep Genetics in 2005, MLA said.

The increase in number of genotypes, rate of genetic progress and number of animals submitted to Sheep Genetics means that sheep producers have access to more animals with Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) than ever before and the merit of these animals is continuing to improve.

Throughout 2022–23, Sheep Genetics continued to see increased growth in both the number of animals in the evaluations, and the number of members contributing to a total of 1305 flocks.

Improvement in intramuscular fat and lean meat yield ASBVs

Ms Bradley said in the LAMBPLAN evaluation, the terminal sire breeds saw a 7pc and 2pc improvement in the rate of gain for Intramuscular Fat and Lean Meat Yield ASBVs respectively.

“This means that sheep are simultaneously being bred for improved meat quality and quantity.”

MLA’s recent Genetics insights survey noted that the use of Sheep Genetics ASBVs by commercial sheep producers increased between 2016–2023 from 14pc to 55pc.

Commercial producers who use ASBVs were significantly more likely to say they think their financial health is improving compared to commercial producers who do not use ASBVs, 61pc compared to 41pc. This demonstrated the financial benefits of utilising ASBVs as part of ram selection, MLA said.

Throughout 2022–23 the Sheep Genetics team engaged with over 900 seedstock and commercial producers at events supported or hosted by Sheep Genetics.

Strong focus on delivering for clients

According to Ms Bradley, the Sheep Genetics team has a strong focus on working with the range of service providers and delivering for their growing client list.

“As the use of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) continues to grow within the commercial sector we’ve seen mimicked growth in the number of animals and clients involved in Sheep Genetics,” she said.

“This has been achieved alongside genetic gain across all the standard indexes.

“Selection indexes combine several important production traits into a single number and are an important tool to drive genetic improvement where there are a range of traits of economic or functional importance.”

Ms Bradley commended the Sheep Genetics team and producers for all their hard work this year as well as the team at the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU) for their contribution to the research and development behind the Sheep Genetics Evaluations.

“Thank you to everyone who contributed to the Sheep Genetics program over the past year. We look forward to working with you over the next 12 months,” Ms Bradley said.

For more information, please see the full Sheep Genetics Annual Outcomes Report 2022-2023



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  1. Doug Wright, March 13, 2024

    The trend towards a plain bodied Merino is happening, but at a rate slower than is needed to move the industry forward.
    Those that made the change 20 years ago are still in the industry and are happy with their decision.

    • Don Mudford, March 14, 2024

      Further to Doug’s comments, the information in this report shows that growers can select for and have been selecting for heavier cutting wool sheep with a plainer body with faster weight gains.

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