Workshop helps drive flock’s genetic gain

09 June 2016

A focus on breeding values and ewe nutrition has helped Central West NSW Merino producers, Chad and Louise Taylor, achieve a 15% lift in lamb numbers, while fast-tracking improvements to all key traits of their flock.

From fleece weight and staple length, through to fat cover and muscling, the Taylors have seen significant gains through the use of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) at their Mumblebone Merino Stud, near Wellington.

The Taylors were early adopters of ASBVs, starting with collecting data in 2004.

They have further enhanced their genetic decision-making skills and those of their clients, by undertaking and also hosting several of MLA's Bred Well Fed Well workshops.

They’re planning to host another Bred Well Fed Well workshop on 22 July at Tottenham racecourse in conjunction with Centre Plus.

Chad, Louise and Chad’s father, George, run about 4000 ewes, with a mix of ram sales, wool sales, wether lamb and surplus ewe sales driving the business.

Chad said there was no doubt using ASBVs has helped drive genetic progress in their flock.

“In breeding value terms, our sale ram average for fleece weight has increased from +1 to +10 since 2004; average muscle depth has increased from -0.6 to +0.6; fat cover has increased from -0.2 to +0.5, and staple length has increased from +8 to +12,” Chad said.

“Every trait we select for has improved on the back of having breeding values to aid selection.”

Chad said producers have a lot to gain by using ASBVs combined with a better understanding of ewe nutrition, and encouraged other producers to attend or host a Bred Well Fed Well workshop.

“Addressing the nutritional requirements of twin-bearing ewes was a breakthrough for us as a result of Bred Well Fed Well workshop,” Chad said.

“When we preg scan, we identify the twin-bearers and if we lamb them down in mobs of 100, or close to that, we’ve been able to increase our lambing percentage to 170% on the back of that simple management change, all of which came from Bred Well Fed Well.

“That has equated to an extra 15% lambs across the whole joining.

“A less obvious, though important benefit of higher lambing rates is more mouths hitting the ground in early spring when we have our most reliable flush of feed. It also means we need to carry less ewes through our winter feed gap making it easier to match stocking rate to the seasonal variation in feed availability without having to intervene with a feed cart.

“High lambing rates really drives selection pressure at classing time, with so many more maiden ewes coming through to select the traits we want.

“It also reduces the age of the flock, meaning we can sell ewes at 5.5 years instead of 6.5 years.

“With better conception rates in ewe lambs we’ll soon be able to sell surplus ewes at 4.5 years instead of 5.5 years, and on it goes, making more money from Merinos at every turn. I just can’t afford to run this business with only 100% of lambs any more.

“There’s so much untapped potential left in the Merino and that’s the stuff that Bred Well Fed Well is really bringing to the table. It’s an exciting program.”

Another change has been to focus on early growth which allows the Taylors to join ewe lambs at a younger age.

“We’ve just joined our 8-month-old ewe lambs. We have clients that have been joining 8-month-old ewe lambs and getting 60% conception rate at that age, and lambing down 100% from the ewes that conceived, which is a further improvement on genetic turnover and productivity," Chad said.

“I think a lot of producers are heavily focused on wool traits without paying attention to many other traits. Without reproduction, there is no production. An animal must be able to reproduce itself.”

Chad said they started using ASBVs so they could compare their raw data in a breeding value form across the industry.

“We wanted to compare our figures to studs that may be on better country or put more effort into presentation and feeding, to be able to have a more accurate means of selecting the genetics we wanted,” Chad said.

“ASBVs take the guesswork out. Environmental factors can affect the appearance of sheep and those environmental factors are all removed by using ASBVs.

“The figures we look at are a genuine reflection of an animal’s genetic worth for a particular trait, whether it be body weight, fleece weight, muscle depth or fat cover, whatever the trait may be, it can’t be disguised with shed feeding or better preparation from one stud compared to the other.”

For more information about hosting a workshop contact Bred Well Fed Well co-ordinator Serina Hancock at S.Hancock@murdoch.edu.au or phone 0403 570 823.

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