THE prime lamb industry has come a long way in the past 30 to 40 years.
The type of sheep across the board has moved from being a smaller framed and early maturing type that ran to fat at small carcase weights to today's high growth, heavily fleshed type that suits a range of markets.
This has been achieved through a mix of hands-on breeder selection and in more recent years, through the increased application of breeding tools such as Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs).
ASBVs involve the science of exploiting natural genetic variation to give genetic improvement of measurable traits.
They should allow a breeder to improve certain traits in one direction while identifying and avoiding antagonistic traits, regardless of the environment.
This sounds great in theory, so why then are an increasing number of meat sheep breeders shying away from what should be a useful breeding tool?
The reasons are many, including the traits that are difficult to measure objectively, such as carcase shape, maturity, softness and type.
It would also appear more work might be needed in using actual carcase data from abattoirs to benchmark how close the figures align with what is being produced and to compare the product of the "believers" and "non-believers".
This would not only help improve ASBV accuracy, but shed light on any potential shortcomings in ASBVs.
At the end of the day this system is only as good as the information fed into it and it is a known fact that scan data has nowhere near the merit of raw abattoir carcase data.
With such a clear division opening in the prime lamb industry between believers and non-believers, perhaps we are now approaching an ideal time to undertake rigorous, independent testing to see how each stack up.
This might help return confidence to a system which should allow breeders to see through the feeding and identify the genetics at play.
Given how entrenched the system has become it seems fair to say it won't be going anywhere soon, but if an increasing number of breeders feel it is failing to deliver then maybe the system's performance does need a close look.
To lose such a system - even if it does need tweaking - would ultimately be a loss to the industry, as it should be able to provide a platform for comparison across seasons, generations and flocks.