Sheep Genetics database search angst prompts webinar

Terry Sim, August 19, 2020

SHEEP Genetics has resisted calls to take down its new database search website after negative feedback about its index-focused design and functionality.

Social media sites have carried several negative comments after the national sheep breeding evaluation service launched its new search site on August 5.

The feedback has prompted Meat & Livestock Australia organise a webinar to get producer feedback on the site changes before a 30-day trial period ends.

The webinar is scheduled for next Monday, 24 August, from 12.30-1.15pm. Click here to register for the webinar. Interested people wanting to register can also contact the Sheep Genetics team on [email protected] or (02) 8055 1818.

Sheep Genetics has partnered with the digital services company, Tigerspike, to upgrade its database search functions, aiming to lift the rate of genetic gain in the national flock by simplifying the language and descriptions of Australian Sheep Breeding Values and improving search performance. A survey of Sheep Genetics users was undertaken in mid-February.

However, one NSW Merino breeder said the new sheep database search site seemed to focus on directing people to select sheep on indexes, rather than facilitating specific trait ranking and selection.

“I think the issue is what they’ve dumbed it down to the extent that you say whether you are interested in wool or meat and then it directs you to an index selection.

“This is a major restructure at the beginning of the ram selling season so the timing is pretty poor and they’ve shut off the old website – so you can’t go in and do what you want to do,” he said.

“A lot of people were frustrated with the old website, but they found a way to get the data out and say onto Excel and sorted it.”

Take the new search site down

AWGA director Robert Ingram

Delegate grower and Australian Wool Growers Association director Robert Ingram said he tried to go into the new SG website to do his annual analysis of studs for rams.

“When you are searching for data, you want to have the data as open as possible so that you can put your criteria on it.

“This directs you down a pathway they think you should be going – to indexes – but you can’t pull out all the indexes for an individual animal,” he said.

“You can only look at the indexes that they have given you.”

Mr Ingram said the old website search function was “clunky,” but it enabled experienced users to select a top percentage of ram from different stud catalogues and have them in the same Excel spreadsheet for comparison.

“You can’t compare stud against stud (on the new search website).

“Now I can’t get to the raw data for each ram catalogue.”

He believes Sheep Genetics needs to take the new website down and then undertake more extensive consultation with users.

New search site is too index focused

Poll Merino breeder Andrew Bouffler

New South Wales Poll Merino breeder Andrew Bouffler said the new search site was not ready. He has suggested to SG manager Gus Rose that because of the launch’s timing and teething problems that  changes be made and the site be re-launched in November, but had been told there was a 30-day trial period in the contract with Tigerspike.

“I haven’t spoken to one person who thinks it is an improvement and a lot of people think it is just horrific.

“You can just say after all the negative feedback, and there’s been a lot of it, that it’s not quite ready,” he said.

Mr Bouffler said there had been complaints about people having to learn how to use the site at the start of the ram-selling season.

His main issue with the new site is philosophical, although he understood the designers were trying to streamline its use, but he objected to the preliminary multiple choice options/questions that direct users to specific indexes depending on whether they nominate an interest in wool quality, wool and meat production or wool production and surplus sheep sales.

“The breeder should be left to breed, those questions at the start of it and the assumption that Sheep Genetics knows what it is that we want…”

“To have to answer those questions and then be pigeon-holed and drafted into that I am a Dual Purpose Plus Merino breeder – I’ve never used an index in my life,” he said.

“It is far too index-focused.”

He said rams in his catalogue are ranked on the site according to the Dual Purpose Plus index which he doesn’t use.

“How dare they rank my sale team on an index that I don’t even use?

“None of those indexes have got one ounce of weighting on breech wrinkle or numbers of lambs weaned – the two most critical factors that are facing our industry,” he said.

“This whole presumption that we are an index-based breeding industry is just wrong.

“So I spent a lot of time unwinding their presumptions about what it is that I want to go and do what I want,” Mr Bouffler said.

“It’s just not user-friendly on the phone.”

He recognised that the site’s operation could improve with familiarity.

“But you can’t find some of the most important things if you are looking for semen sires.

“I want to know that a ram has been measured for a trait and even better if he has had progeny measured – the old website could do that.”

This capability had been removed from the new search site, Mr Bouffler said.

Sheep Genetics consulted on search changes

MLA genetics program manager Hamish Chandler

Meat & Livestock Australia genetics program manager Hamish Chandler said there was consultation with SG users to determine what needed to be improved.

He said the current version was the “core piece of work” and there might be some small additions.

“I’m sure there always going to be some teething difficulties when you roll out a new website.”

Mr Chandler said he believes a lot of the early feedback was quite favourable.

He said the search site went live around 3pm August 5 and by 9am the next morning more 120 people had registered to use it.

“But it sounds like there are some people who are not happy and are used to how things were done previously.”

He said the advisory committee its launching time in regard to the ram selling season.

“It’s never easy to find a window of opportunity that suits everyone and we were also conscious of some of the problems we had earlier in the year with speed of the website.”

Mr Chandler said he had used the new search site and “managed to do the things I wanted to do.”

“The main improvement is around how to deliver information to people in a way that is easier for them understand – different people prefer to access information in different ways.

“Previously it was rather a data heavy way of delivering information with tables of information,” he said.

“Now users can choose between several different views for how information is delivered to them.”

He said percentile bands hopefully give a better visual understanding how each animal sits for each trait within the breed or the analysis. The login requirements enable subscribers to indicate how they want to access information.

Mr Chandler said he hoped it wouldn’t take long for people to learn where to go to get information.

“Hopefully, the pay-off is in the speed of accessing information and that you can access it in several different forms which you can customise and save your settings.”

Mr Chandler said the volume of data on the site has grown massively since it was first created.

“A lot more animals in databases and a lot more traits being delivered, it needed to be updated.”

Mr Chandler said the average download time on the search site has improved by 88 percent.

Over the next month the site and feedback will be monitored, he said.

“I guess we hope not to have to do major changes, but if there are some modifications that we can do over that time we will be taking feedback from people and seeing if anything needs to change.

“If we get a significant amount of feedback about particular issues then we may have to look at further development,” Mr Chandler said.

“I am hopeful that it’s mostly an issue of people are used to seeing things a particular way and operating a particular way, but once it is bedded in we are hopeful people will find it is much more user-friendly with better speeds.”

Sheep Genetics is open to feedback and changes

Sheep Genetics advisory committee member and Merino breeder Hamish McLaren said he liked the simplicity of the search site.

“For first-time users it is pretty ease to go and search an animal, a stud or search a group of animals; I think it is good like that.

“It is a lot quicker than the other one,” he said.

“I think Sheep Genetics will change things as they go as long as enough people complain about the same thing.”

Mr McLaren said he didn’t think studs liked being “pigeon-holed” into an index.

“There have been a lot complaining about that.

“There is no reason for that.”

Though he said indexes are “a really good tool in the box” for breeders.

“If one of those indexes is pushing you in the right direction, that’s a great thing isn’t it?”

NSW Merino breeder JB Tancred believed the new search site was “great.”

“It is incredibly different to the old site, it looks excellent, it’s very user-friendly and especially for people using it for the first time.

“It allows first-time users to be led through to be able to find the sheep that they want.”

He said he understood that it would take time for stud breeders who use the site daily to become familiar with the site.

“The more I use it, the more I like it, I think it is easy to find the sheep that you are after.

“It looks magnificent,” he said.

“I like that you are led to the index that you think would best suit your sheep.”

Mr Tancred said the site’s filter enabled producers to rank sheep on traits, including breech wrinkle and numbers of lambs weaned.

“It really allows you to do everything.”

He understood that some breeders are concerned their sheep are initially ranked on indexes.

“But rank them on what else? You may as well rank them on index.”

Mr Tancred said Sheep Genetics is encouraging producers to use indexes.

“They need to be ranked somehow, so why not initially rank them on index and then anybody can change how they are ranked with a click of a button.”

He believed Sheep Genetics is open to making further improvements and is asking for feedback.

A webinar would help

MLA director and SA sheep breeder Andrew Michael

South Australian sheep breeder and MLA director Andrew Michael said he had been inundated with feedback from consultants and commercial clients about the new search site.

“Maybe there are some areas and timing that weren’t right.”

Mr Michael said the feedback he has had “has not been positive” and he is disappointed at the negativity in an area he believes is “super important” for the industry.

He queried whether this was due to “the initial shock” of the changes or a lack of education.

“I think it needs serious education and it needs some work done.”

Mr Michael supported holding the webinar to discuss the change before the 30-day pilot period transpired.

“I think it’s really important that they do that, pretty much straight away, because then people can talk through any concerns that they have.

“it works both ways, producers can have their input and the researchers can find out any alterations that need to be made, especially to the program, before the trial period ends.”

Changes needed before ram-selling season

NSW sheep consultant Sally Martin said she understood there has been extensive testing of the new search site. She hoped that any changes to the site were made relatively quickly because the ram selling season was starting.

“It is a pretty major resource that people use to search for ram purchases.

“Making sure that people can assess it and get to the information they need is, I think, imperative,” she said.

“The critical thing is that we as an industry we’re looking for the functionality of the old website with information presented in a different way and speed is really important.

“There are a lot of people with poor connectivity and we need to be able to see it on our phones,” she said.

“All those things I believe were in the brief to develop this.”

Western Australian Merino breeder David Thompson said the new search site is an “absolute unmitigated debacle.”

“Because it is not an improvement on the old one, it has actually taken it back; it is impossible to navigate.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of our clients and they are lost, it is a complete balls-up,” he said.

“You have to go in through an index, you can’t select the traits, it’s just not possible.

“And if you look at all the ram-selling catalogues they’ve got on there, you can’t use any of the columns apart from the default ones,” Mr Thompson said.

“If you want to select for post-weaning weight, yearling fat and post eye muscle, you can’t do it.

“It’s a complete waste of time, it is going to drive people away from the whole thing, commercial people will just give up,” he said.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


  1. Geoffrey Gale, September 28, 2020

    As a user of the previous website, I have had much difficulty moving around and finding the site. Whenever I have tried a site that has a computer guru that has changed things to suit computer savvy people I have finished up going back to visual selection until I can get a grip of the basics of the program. I have been involved with Lambplan since Rob Banks was running the show and the difference between then and now is chalk and cheese. Rob went out and met with the breeders and developed things as they went. This is developed by a computer nerd that has no idea what a sheep looks like, let alone the differences between good sheep and terrible.

  2. Bevan Taylor, September 5, 2020

    I have been using the Dohne database to guide breeders from its inception. i.e. Kintail Park, Koobelup and Glen Holme. One only needs to look at the contribution these ram breeders genetics have had and are having on/in the national Dohne flock.
    This new format is totally and utterly and comprehensively a failure for the purpose of assisting these breeders in the future. For instance, how can I now find a dam that has had 3/4 sets of twins, all assessed AA, and weaning her own body weight of lambs annually?
    Please, please reinstate the Dohne data base we had.

  3. Paul Swan, August 21, 2020

    While I am not on the front line of genetic improvement, nor investing lots of my own hard-earned income in collecting and submitting data, as a user and advisor, I am at a loss to understand how this new platform is an improvement in the interests of the industry.

    From a duty of care perspective, the previous platform should be made accessible to users as an option while this mess is sorted out.

  4. Trevor Ryan, August 20, 2020

    I have no idea why this needed to be changed. I could do everything that I wanted with the old format, but I am now struggling to access the information that I need on the eve of the ram-selling season.

  5. Grant Burbidge, August 20, 2020

    Let’s not lose sight of the purpose of Sheep Genetics. It is to enable genetic progress to be made by sheep producers.

    Therefore, it is imperative that producers are not pigeon-holed into certain categories and can extract as much information from the database as they need. For some, that might be a couple of traits and a standard index. However, there are others — like me — who would like access to many traits and to apply their own index. This new format not only takes much longer to set up a search, but gives far less output. That is not progress.

    Unless there are major changes to this new platform, genetic gain by the sheep industry will be substantially reduced.

    The suggestion by some people that this is just users not liking change or not knowing how to use the new system is quite insulting to those long time SG participants who have persevered with inadequate access to the database for decades, while still delivering substantial genetic gains.

    The opportunity to get this right is now and the solution is simple. Enable the new platform to extract every piece of information in the database and let us users decide which pieces will give the greatest genetic gain for our flocks.

  6. Lu Hogan, August 20, 2020

    In the meantime, while these issues are resolved, please remember that is available for ram buyers searching for rams based on ASBVs. You can see all the sale catalogues and rank animals according to your trait needs, set minimum or maximum trait values and save your search lists.

  7. Alistair Campbell, August 20, 2020

    While it is great that you are updating the website, I have a few problems with it.
    I’m unable to use PWWT (post weaning weight), the most important growth trait for NZ.
    I need to be able to input at least 20 traits. When a trait is added, I can’t find out how to put them in a logical order. The added trait seems to be only able to go at the end.
    I also do not like to be pigeon-holed into an index. I want to select the index I want.
    It’s great that you are upgrading the website and I am sure with a few modifications it can be made to work.

Get Sheep Central's news headlines emailed to you -