Merino breeder using technology to advance his flock

Merino breeder using technology to advance his flock

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Davo Weir, Bertangles, Bookham proudly looking over his January-shorn, Bogo-blood maiden Merino ewes entered in the Bookham Agricultural Bureau ewe competition.

Davo Weir, Bertangles, Bookham proudly looking over his January-shorn, Bogo-blood maiden Merino ewes entered in the Bookham Agricultural Bureau ewe competition.

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Combining visual criteria along with fleece and bodyweight measurements Bookham district woolgrower is lifting production in his Merino flock

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Davo Weir is the fourth generation of his family breeding Merino sheep at Bertangles, Bookham and he is combining the skills and experience of his father Sam and sheep classer Mal Peake, Bogo, Yass with his own sheep knowledge and interest in technology to further the profitability of the family operation.

Replacement rams have been sourced from Bogo Merinos, Yass since 2000 and for the past seven years a ram breeding nucleus has been run on Bertangles, principally joined to Bogo-bred rams but with an influence of Yarrawonga-bred sires.

Mr Weir had his maiden January-shorn ewes on display during the recent Bookham Agricultural Bureau ewe competition when he talked about his breeding aspirations.

"We are breeding an easy care ewe and maintaining our fleece measurement at 17 and half to 18 and half micron," he said.

"We also want to lift our fleece cut without compromising fertility and body weight."

To achieve those aims, Mr Weir said he is not attempting increases in production by great leaps and bound but by steadily working on each trait in turn to breed an even flock.

With his maiden ewes on display and realising they were not long off shears, and therefore with not a lot of wool to look at, Mr Weir said he and his father decided to show the results of their interest in using measurement as a guide to the selection of ewes.

"We are identifying those with higher body weight, higher fleece cut but still maintaining the fine micron," he said.

"They are the better performing ewes in terms of dollars for us.

"It is interesting to see the variety in our flock with some ranked higher in the index than those that went into the nucleus but they are in the commercial flock because of their structure, skin type or wool faults."

Bea Bradley-Litchfield, Hazeldean, Cooma was one of the competition judges and she said the selection of the sheep with the right skin type for your environment is most important.

"Even though the ewe is a top performer on paper, she still needs to be in line with want you want your flock to look like," she said.

"There are things you can't measure on paper but they are still important to you and you have to keep that in."

Mr Weir said the information for indexing begins at weaning for the nucleus flock which are weighed to monitor growth rates, but for the commercial flock it begins when they are yearlings.

"We take their body weight and fleece weight, and are visually classed and those with the potential to make the nucleus are side sampled for fleece data."

From the 2019-drop ewes, after the bottom 30 percent were classed out, 220 went into the nucleus flock and 720 retained for the commercial flock.

Mr Weir explained a visual classing occurs in November when ewes are assessed on structure and wool type with typically a 15 to 20 percent culling rate.

"That leaves us with about ten percent to be culled on fleece and body weight, traits which weren't obvious on visual classing," he said.

"The second classing I have found really valuable in terms of looking at the conformation of the sheep," he said.

"With Mal, we are looking at them after they are shorn and looking at their objective measurements.

"It really helped to even them up a lot more."

Alex Wilson, Kalaree Poll Merinos, Tarago told the few woolgrowers assembled it was a challenge to open up your mind to the new concept of running a sheep enterprise based on objective measurement along with subjective assessment.

"So if anyone is struggling with that because it is not what you have done before it is not a bad thing," he said.

"I do struggle with it but I enjoy the mental challenge of getting my head around it," he said.

"Open your mind because the Merino which came to Australia 200 years ago cut about 2kg and the sheep we see today are a lot better.

"So there is no reason to say we are not going to get more progress and more genetic gain by utilizing the tools which are available.

"Using ASBV's are a tool, not the be all to end all."

Mrs Bradley-Litchfield thought it really important to class the sheep visually before classing based on the numbers.

"You have to have the sheep right before the numbers will work for you," she said.

"You have to do what suits you, breed the type of sheep you like to look at.

"Objective measurement and numbers are not for everyone and if you don't want to weigh every fleece and fibre test that is up to you.

"But if you are someone who wants to push your productivity and increase profit it is a good tool."

The story Merino breeder using technology to advance his flock first appeared on The Land.

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