Heralded as the largest research into Merino breeding in the country, the Merino Lifetime Productivity (MLP) project showcased an update to industry at Tuloona, Harrow, in the state’s Western District.
Funded by Australian Wool Innovation and Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association (AMSEA), just three years into the $11 million, 10 year project it has debunked industry assumptions and shown some potential production trade-offs.
“It is intriguing stuff. Amazing things have come to light using the DNA pedigree, and from that, who knows where the industry can take that information,” Elders Balmoral Sire Evaluation chairman Tom Silcock said.
Hosted by Tuloona principal Michael Craig, in collaboration with the Elders Balmoral Sire Evaluation, the field day displayed the F1 ewe progeny and provided demonstrations of the latest in data collection and sheep handling technologies.
The display was an impressive logistical feat, with 1400 rising one and two-year-old Merino ewes penned into 70 different sire groups. The display included the 2017-drop Balmoral trial progeny at Mark Bunge, Kooringal property, Coleraine.
The MLP project runs at five sites where sire evaluation trials operate for the first two years and then continue tracking performance of ewe progeny as they proceed through four to five joinings and annual shearings.
Mr Silcock said the range in sire types created an opportunity to closely explore the drivers of lifetime productivity as ewe progeny are shorn, classed and joined throughout life.
“We are seeing high conception rate sheep don’t necessarily reflect high survival rates, or lambs on the ground,” he said.
“This is only preliminary findings and we need to produce repetitive data to have confidence in it.
“But I see this information helping the industry with our selection systems and evaluation systems to deliver better outcomes in the future.”
A fascinating observation included a sire that was DNA-linked to 36 per cent of progeny, out of a mob of ewes that were naturally joined to 11 rams. The DNA testing also connected about one-third of each twin were born to different sires.
While this was not core MLP information collected, AMSEA chief executive Ben Swain said it highlighted the important role genetics played in performance and production outcomes.
“The impact could be massive. Through this project we will identify the genetics and types of sheep that will perform against all production traits - and that will take a lot of data and a lot of time,” Mr Swain said.
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