Genetics

WA Merino breeders reminded to use Yardstick

Sheep Central, September 16, 2019

DPIRD research officer John Paul Collins, left, Bob Hall from Icon Agriculture, stud breeder Max Ewen and DPIRD technical officer Wayne Lequaietermaine measure Yardstick project lambs.

WESTERN Australian Merino sheep producers have been reminded to access the latest objective measurement information captured by the Yardstick sire evaluation project.

Yardstick, hosted by the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development and consultants Icon Agriculture, has run for 19 years in Western Australia.

It is part of a national project co-funded by Australian Wool Innovation and the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association to compare progeny from rams from around the country.

A total of 12 Merino rams are currently involved in the local project, hosted at the department’s Katanning Research Facility, which includes sires from interstate to link Yardstick with other progeny testing programs across the country. The program used artificial insemination to impregnate 600 ewes, of which 458 gave birth to 580 lambs, which dropped between 4-22 July. The lambs were all recently measured and marked and the data is being uploaded to the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association website to generate reports for ram buyers to compare the sires’ performance.

Department research officer John Paul Collins said the Yardstick project provided useful information to assess wool and meat traits and compare rams’ Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) – the standard used to compare objective performance traits. He said producers should consider ASBVs alongside visual assessments when deciding which ram to buy for their flock.

“Purchasing rams is a big investment.

“ASBVs are a credible and accurate tool that can aid producers’ decisions about the best animal to purchase to obtain their breeding objective,” Mr Collins said.

“Yardstick includes objective wool measurements, such as clean fleece weight, fibre diameter, length and strength, wool curvature and the co-efficient of variation, as well as meat traits like eye muscle depth and fat depth.

“Health traits are also measured, like faecal worm egg count, alongside visual assessments of breech wrinkle, cover and dags, while a professional classer assesses wool colour, fleece rot, face covering and structural soundness.”

In addition to ASBVs, Flock Breeding Values, which describe the in-flock performance of sheep for the different traits, are also calculated as part of the Yardstick dataset. Mr Collins said objective measurement of production traits had become more widely adopted, since the Yardstick’s inception.

“It’s interesting to note there has been increasing interest in meat traits, reflecting a greater emphasis on breeding dual purchase sheep in the commercial sector.

“This has led to collecting information on weaning, yearling and hogget growth rates to assist producers to breed faster growing animals,” he said.

Mr Collins said Yardstick was an important program that helped both individual producers to achieve their breeding objectives, as well as the broader industry collective.

“The inclusion of the interstate link sires enables us to see how WA rams compare nationally, regardless of where they were impregnated across the country.

“The results enable sheep producers to see how their sires are performing in comparison to others, as well as identify areas for improvement.”

Yardstick and national reports can be found on at merinosuperiorsires.com.au The department will host a field day at the Katanning Research Facility on Tuesday, 29 October from 1-5pm, where the 2018 progeny can be viewed and the results will be discussed.

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