Genetics

RamSelect Plus app to help breeders with industry mega-trends

Terry Sim, August 11, 2016
Walch sheep breeder Martin Oppenheimer

Walch sheep breeder Martin Oppenheimer

SHEEP industry mega-trends could be addressed by the Sheep CRC’s RamSelect Plus app, according to New South Wales Merino and White Suffolk breeder Martin Oppenheimer.

The new app version was launched at the Lambex 2016 conference in Albury today, by Sheep CRC director John Gibson. More than 1000 delegates are attending the three-day conference.

Mr Oppenheimer said the RamSelect app was his ‘trip advisor’ and he had listed his Petali Merino and White Suffolk sale teams on the app this year.

“It worked very well for us and it also worked for our stud and commercial clients.

“A number of the top-priced lots were purchased by clients who said they used RamSelect,” he said.

“So the new version of the app will be very welcome for us.”

Mr Oppenheimer said the app enabled producers to reduce risk, buy the rams they wanted and could help them address industry mega-trends, including productivity growth.

“Sheep genetics genomics, and now RamSelect, are part of the reasons why we are seeing such huge gains in productivity across the Australian sheep industry,” he said.

“Increasing lamb survival, that’s a productivity issue but it is also a social licence issue.

“All you have to do is look at my home state New South Wales and what they are doing with greyhounds to see obviously social licence is a big issue for the future,” he said.

“Animal welfare, and simply if we have a greater number of lambs survive through to weaning then it’s more dollars in our pockets.

“So how do we do that, well in a fibre flock obviously we are going to look for more fat and we are going to balance our genetic fat with some fleece weight,” he said.

“We are going to look for more muscle and in meat flocks we are probably going to look at traits like birth weight, lambing ease and maternal behaviour, and all those traits you can pick out on RamSelect Plus and look for the breeders with high accuracies for those traits.”

App can help breeders reduce need to mules

Mr Oppenheimer said mulesing was another social licence and animal welfare issue that was affecting wool marketing and demand. RamSelect Plus can help producers move away from the need to mules by selecting against traits such as breech wrinkle, cover, dag and worm resistance, he said.

Eating quality traits such as intramuscular fat and shear force could also be selected for with RamSelect Plus. Selection for poll sheep can mean easier handling through autodrafters and handlers on farms employing less labour.

Mr Oppenheimer said selection for early growth and moderate adult sheep weights on RamSelect Plus can improve feed efficiency.

Sheep CRC co-ordinator of industry engagement and training Lu Hogan said RamSelect Plus enabled breeders to finesse and save their flock breeding objectives, find and rank rams with breeding value accuracy thresholds to ensure quality and target their searches according to postcode. She urged ram buyers to also do a visual inspection of rams before purchase.

The new app features more precise genetic selection tools, as well as new benchmarking and ram team management tools. Breeders can restrict their search to animals that have particular ASBVs within pre-set limits or only look for polled rams if this is a preference. Users could benchmark their ram teams and new ram selections against industry averages and track the impact of their rams.

Sheep CRC is seeking flocks for subsidised flock profiling

The new RamSelect Plus app can also incorporate DNA Flock Profile test results for commercial flocks to help set search criteria for future ram purchases.

Sheep CRC's Professor Julius van der Werf

Sheep CRC’s Professor Julius van der Werf

Sheep CRC program leader, genetics and genomics, Professor Julius van der Werf, said the new RamSelect Plus app would help producers make ram choices, but they still needed to know what should be improved in their ewe flock and what were its weaknesses. DNA profiling of a flock could give a genetic profile or prediction of genetic merit of the animals and if done in successive years, producers would be able to see trends, he said.

“DNA profiling is a good predictor of genetic merit and genetic merit is a good predictor of what you are actually going to achieve.”

The Sheep CRC is looking for about 100 flocks — mainly Merinos — to participate in a DNA genomics profiling pilot program in the next few months. The genomics test costs about $50 per animal and the Sheep CRC is suggesting flock owners test about 15-20 animals, he said. The cost should get cheaper in the next year or two and the Sheep CRC was working on reducing the turnaround time from 10 weeks to four weeks. Traits measured in the profiling would initially be the main easier-to-predict carcase and fleece traits for Merinos – bodyweight, fleece weight and fibre diameter.

Sheep CRC chief executive officer Professor James Rowe said the CRC would probably cover a third to half the cost of the genomics profiling for participating producers, reducing the cost to about $500-$600.

Technology and apps has democratised genetics

Sheep CRC director John Gibson

Sheep CRC director John Gibson

Professor Gibson who said more than half the productivity gains in livestock species in the past 40-50 years have been through genetics.

“The other 50 percent has been from the other things we do with livestock.

“It (genetics) is an incredibly powerful tool,” he said.

“But the biggest single problem with livestock genetics in all species everywhere, has been the complexity of making genetic improvement – the number of traits that we are interested in, the data that we need, the methods of analysing and combining that data, it’s overwhelming.”

This complexity had made genetics “a rather exclusive business”, but modern technology and the development of accessible apps is transforming our minds, he said.

“It’s actually democratising our lives in many ways and that’s in some sense what RamSelect does.

“In RamSelect there are lots of specific functions there, but it is a bit like driving a car.”

The new app was an intuitive tool that would help more people use genetics more effectively, “without being a world expert in the subject.”

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