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Record number of genotypes included in Sheep Genetics evaluations in 2022-2023

13 March 2024

The Australian sheep flock is continuing to experience genetic gain, driven by ongoing growth in the Sheep Genetics program, as revealed in a new report released by Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

This genetic gain – which is a key driver of farmer productivity, profitability and sustainability, was detailed within the Sheep Genetics Annual Outcomes Report for 2022-2023.

MLA reported that the Sheep Genetics program saw a record number of genotypes submitted to the Sheep Genetics 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.

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.

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.

According to Peta Bradley, Manager of Sheep Genetics for MLA, 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,” Ms Bradley 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.

“Along with gain across our selection indexes there has been notable progress in key trait areas. During this period there was a 15% reduction in the Early Breech Wrinkle ASBV within the MERINOSELECT evaluation, balanced with improved ASBVs in key production areas including reproduction, growth, and fleece weights.

“In the LAMBPLAN evaluation our Terminal sire breeds saw a 7% and 2% 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 14% to 55%.

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, 61% compared to 41%. This demonstrates the financial benefits of utilising ASBVs as part of ram selection.

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

This engagement included online new member workshops, MateSel training and MateSel refresher courses, presentations for breeder group meetings and conferences, as well as attending industry events such as Sheepvention and the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show.

All events were successful in helping new members get started, as well as working with current clients of Sheep Genetics.

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.