National Merinolink project aims to double flock genetic gain rate

Sheep Central, May 30, 2018

DNA project participants, from left, Malcolm Peake, Yass, Alan McGufficke, Cooma, and Matt Crozier, Yass, with MerinoLink CEO Sally Martin.

DOUBLING the rate of genetic gain in Merino flocks by 2022 is the aim of a sheep industry project underway in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia.

Not-for-profit research organisation MerinoLink has partnered with the University of New England on a DNA Stimulation project, jointly funded by MLA Donor Company and the participating breeders.

MerinoLink chief executive officer Sally Martin, of Young, said the DNA stimulation project aimed to double the rate of genetic gain amongst participating stud and commercial flocks within five years by providing breeding program support and expertise to those adopting genetic tools.

Ms Martin said the project involved 27 ram breeders, 14 commercial producers breeding their own rams and 200 commercial producers purchasing rams. She said the project would help the participating producers effectively use genetic and genomic tools.

“There are a number of different available tools however their use can be ad hoc.

“We want to be able to help producers strategically and cost effectively use these tools so they get the best bang for their buck,” she said.

“If a producer is spending a certain amount on DNA parent testing, we want to make sure they are testing an entire cohort and not a shot gun approach, which can compromise the impact of their investment.

“This would help ram breeders have more confidence in their Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) to make more accurate selection decisions to continue to drive genetic gain.”

Ms Martin said the DNA Flock Profile test would be used to benchmark commercial flocks and validate the commercial use of the tool.

It will help them to make better informed ram buying choices.

“Participating commercial producers will receive an average breeding value for their flock for a range of traits and production indexes,” she said.

“We can then look at the flock’s strengths and weaknesses, and what they should be focusing on when buying new rams.

“The ram teams they are purchasing year-on-year can be evaluated to ensure they are purchasing genetically superior rams to the previous year, and with the ability to correct any weaknesses in the flock, and capitalise on strengths,” Ms Martin said.

“Production information will also be collected on-farm to ensure top performing ewes are retained to increase profitability.”

UNE genetic research scientist Dr Tom Granlesse and Professor Julius Van der Werf will provide technical expertise for the project.

“The exciting thing about this project is we can start making a big difference on-farm.

“We are talking about trying to improve current measurement methods so breeders and their clients get the best value for money, through increasing the accuracy of the data going into Sheep Genetics as well as the ASBVs reported back,” Ms Martin said.

Among the project participants is Bogo Merinos at Cavan Station, Yass. Bogo manager Malcolm Peake said DNA sampling on the stud sires, and 2017-drop rams and ewes was underway for genotyping.

A tissue sampling unit (TSU) is used to take a blood sample from the animals for DNA analysis.

“The main driver for us is doubling genetic gain by 2022 – we’ve always used extended measurement including ASBVs, and this project adds to the accuracy of them,” Mr Peake said.

“We can also pedigree animals without having to lamb ewes down in sire groups – we can run them in syndicates, thus increasing efficiencies.

“The benefits from the DNA testing will flow on to our commercial clients so it’s a win-win,” he said.

“We want to identify the top rams in our own flock with the highest genetic potential and multiply them to produce the best fibre we possibly can on every given hectare.”


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