The fuzzy logic of genetic research

The challenge of genetic gain is more complex for Merinos than other livestock sectors

THE failure of investment in the Information Nucleus Flock (INF) and MerinoSelect to deliver a return appears to be a case of the cart before the horse - or is it?

In short, the Merino breed simply hasn't had enough growers supporting MerinoSelect for the potential gains identified by research to effectively flow through to industry.

There has also been a lack of indication by way of price signals from commercial ram buyers that they have confidence in the tool to deliver value.

On face value, the Merino breed's potential silver bullet for increasing genetic gains (ie. increased accuracy of MerinoSelect breeding values, including the incorporation of genomics) to a level more akin to prime lambs, or perhaps even the poultry industry, has missed the mark.

The challenge of genetic gain is more complex for Merinos than other livestock sectors because of the many traits the modern producer needs to include in their selection.

Even if MerinoSelect adoption had been wider reaching, gains would still have been relatively slow because of the time it takes to overcome the many antagonistic effects of Merino production, so Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) could still have found itself in the same position.

Yet, it is the genetic tools provided by MerinoSelect that provide Merino producers with their best chance of successfully harnessing those hard-to-measure antagonistic traits to greater productivity.

AWI has to demonstrate a return on investment and the slow nature of Merino genetic improvement just isn't a good fit for an economy where results are needed tomorrow to justify a project's existence.

The situation has also not been helped by the long run of low wool prices, which has diverted potential premiums to better prime lamb sires.

But now with the lift in wool prices, we might start to see a premium emerge for higher performing Merino rams.

However, assuming MerinoSelect can operate sustainably without grower levy input, then perhaps it's time to cut it loose and let good old "market forces" play their role.

But here lies a paradox for AWI: if MerinoSelect can be self-supporting after a decade, despite engaging only a fraction of the industry, what sort of self-supporting gene-based management platforms might be built in the coming decade with AWI support?

Andrew Norris

Andrew Norris

is the editor of The Land
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Graham Gilmore
10/06/2015 12:11:35 AM

It is obvious Andrew that you don't breed or listen to the industry that I am part of as we have the same problems as the merino industry. Do you remember a full page ad in your paper on the discontent with lambplan. It's time for those in this estimated breeding values systems to fund themselves as the rest of us have had a gutful of the proper gander. If any of this was commercially relevant those of us not in it would be out of business and we are not. It's time the media stop the mindless promotion of MLAs genetic flop. I am not aware of any EBVs in the chicken industry!!!
10/06/2015 7:30:50 AM

Graham you are a goose. "Most commercial meat chickens that are raised for human consumption worldwide, originated from ‘great grand parent’ eggs from a handful of companies based in the US and the UK that specialise in selective breeding meat chickens. For them, the conducting of selective breeding programs and the developing breeding lines is highly specialised and resource intensive. Therefore, in the Australian industry, imported breeding stock gives access to the world’s best poultry genes." Want that to happen with sheep?
John NIven
10/06/2015 12:07:51 PM

Graham, totally agree and of course we are paying levies for these parasites to try to put us out of business. Not sure if it is a proper gander or a proper goose but in any case is propaganda.
John NIven
10/06/2015 1:01:56 PM

Couple of things relieved, these CRC's are not cost effective and very little benefit to those who pay. Also astute breeders outside the parasite club in both meat and wool sheep are using measurement and recordings to stay in front in the genetic gains business. We also put our names to our claims.
10/06/2015 2:21:39 PM

Genetics is only one part on a vast and complex array of variables. It's important - but not as important as some people like to make out.
Graham Gilmore
10/06/2015 3:17:35 PM

Selective breeding in the chicken industry is much the same as in the sheep industry. I may be a goose but I am still not aware that the chicken industry made gains through EBVs. My comments are based on experience running a very successful meat sheep enterprise for more than 35 years and having much genetic gain that can be easy proved. Relieved - what are your credentials or will you remain anonymous?
Ballallaba Springs
11/06/2015 12:13:02 AM

Good editorial, especially that the challenge of genetic gain is more complex for Merinos than other livestock. It's also complicated by the diversity of environmental conditions and extensive production system that merinos typically run under.
Rob Moore
11/06/2015 9:25:59 AM

Feed=80% Breed=20%. Until we get paid for quality and not just kgs hanging - who would be bothered with all this bs. Processors will always pay the very least on the day and pull all the levers to ensure this.This is the real commercial world -not this "alice in wonderland" built from our levies that get taken and are then untraceable -into the MLA trough!The MLA is an expensive joke on the australian taxpayer and the long suffering LEVY payers imo!
Graham Gilmore
13/06/2015 7:31:48 PM

Relieved I am not surprised that you have no reply. I have studied the chicken industry for many years. Intensive line breeding by people that now what they are doing. The same applies to Australian sheep genetics over the years. I have no problems with different theories or systems. My problem is with the funding of EBVs through lambplan- merino select that is being subsidised by all in the industry. I don't get funding for my breeding programs nor should I. I use any technology that is available as long as it works. I choose not to use EBVs and don't want to sudiside those who do.
A matter of opinionA selection of editorials from around the Fairfax Agricultural Media group covering the issues of the week.


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