DNA testing delivers new breeding insights at Beechworth

DNA testing delivers new breeding insights at Beechworth

DNA testing to obtain a genetic flock profile has changed the way Victorian Merino breeder Stuart Warner not only looks at his flock, but how he will approach his genetic selection decisions in the future.

As a registered deliverer of Bred Well Fed Well and RamSelect workshops, Mr Warner has a close understanding of the power of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) as an objective genetic selection tool.

But the additional information available through the DNA Flock Profile test has provided him with new insights into how well his flock is tracking in the pursuit of his breeding objectives, and opened his mind to new ways of pursuing those goals.

“It was a real eye opener and it has definitely changed the way we think about our genetic selection,” Mr Warner said.

“We will now be putting a little more emphasis on selection for fleece weight, although we won’t do that at the expense of carcase traits, but we wouldn’t have even contemplated doing that without the data from the Flock Profile test.

“It was also good to see confirmation, presented in the flock profile test data, that the investment we have put into rams with the right ASBVs over the last 15 years is really paying off. We weren’t surprised that using ASBVs works, but it was nice to have that confirmation of exactly how that approach has changed the genetic composition of our flock.”

Mr Warner, along with his parents Graeme and Gwen and wife Katie, runs a mixed farming enterprise at Beechworth, covering grape and wine production, a small Angus herd, 500 composite ewes and 1200 Merino breeders.

Earlier in 2017 he participated in the DNA Flock Profile Pilot Trial conducted by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), as part of the test’s final validation activity prior to its recent commercial release.

The Sheep CRC is a collaboration of more than 40 organisations from across industry, government and the commercial sector, and includes producer groups, farm advisers, universities and research organisations, meat processors and retailers. It has developed a range of DNA tests to drive faster and more affordable genetic improvement, with the DNA Flock Profiler its most recent product to be released to market.

The Flock Profiler prediction involves randomly sampling 20 young ewes for DNA testing, with genetic links then identified with animals of known breeding values from the Information Nucleus database to obtain a prediction of their flock’s average breeding values scaled to ASBVs for major Merino traits, such as yearling weight, fleece weight and fibre diameter and well as the indexes for Fibre Production, Merino Production and Dual Purpose.

“The profile has shown we are near the top of commercial flocks which is rewarding, and that has made me ask questions about how to stay there with respect to our breeding objectives,” Mr Warner said.

“Based on the DNA Flock Profile test results I’m going to look at using fewer but higher powered rams to fill the genetic holes in our commercial flock.

“For example, we currently don’t cut a lot of wool on a per head basis, which I had put down to the fact we stock pretty heavy for this environment, but the Flock Profiler is showing us that there’s actually a genetic component that we can do something about. Looking at our ram team there’s clearly a couple of rams holding us back on this trait.”

Mr Warner has a breeding objective for his Merino flock of plain-bodied, long-staple length sheep delivering wether lambs yielding more than 20kg (carcase weight) at under 12 months of age and ewe lambs reaching 55kg (live weight) for first joining at 18 months.

He is also aiming to improve carcase quality, increase fleece weight and increase the weaning percentage of ewes joined to 120% (currently at 110% for a 5 year average) through increased lamb survival, while maintaining micron at 18-19.5.

Mr Warner plans to integrate the results into his ram team management records on RamSelect to enable him to more accurately target the rams that will address his breeding objectives.

He also plans to use the Flock Profile test every three to four years to update the snapshot of his flock’s performance.

“In combination with RamSelect, the DNA Flock Profile test allows us to measure the genetic gain of our flock over time and compare that to the genetic merit of our current ram team,” he said.

“That ensures we know which rams are holding us back on key traits and allows us to think more precisely about how we use those rams in the future, if we use them at all.

“When people are reviewing their breeding objective and deciding on which rams to buy or to use, it is important to have an objective measurement of where the current animals stand, both in the ram team, and the ewe flock – RamSelect and now the DNA Flock Profile test deliver that information.”

Source: Sheep CRC

Featured image: Stu Warner

Image provided by the Sheep CRC