Progeny testing helps AMS breeders meet objectives

17 Sep, 2003 10:00 PM
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FOLLOWING the establishment of the Australian Merino Society (AMS) 31 years ago, the Hobbs family restructured their flock and established an AMS ram breeding co-operative on Ingle, their 2080ha property north-west of Brookton.

Today fourth-generation farmers Ashley and Lucille Hobbs continue the tradition of AMS breeding established by Ashley's parents Bruce and Rita.

The Hobbs family run a ram breeding flock of 650 with a commercial flock of 1500 breeding ewes and a mixed cropping program on 55-60pc of their arable land.

Crops including wheat, barley, canola, lupins and a small proportion of field peas are phase-cropped for three to six years and then put into pasture for three years.

The Hobbs run a winter grazing DSE of 10-12/ha.

According to Ashley, progeny testing has become a major management tool in helping meet breeding objectives and also making the best genetic progress possible with available technology.

"We started progeny testing around four years ago to more effectively benchmark sires and plot and monitor the genetic progress of our flock," he said.

"Knowing the genetic potential of sires in particular has allowed us to ascertain the estimated breeding value (EBV) of particular animals so we can make more informed choices when it comes to selecting preferred genetic characteristics.

"You need to know what a sire will do, not what he appears to look like."

Progeny testing is carried out on hogget rams after data is collected from siblings and is combined with their own data to give each animal an EBV.

According to Ashley, you have to test the rams because each EBV is precisely that, an estimate.

"To be sure you have to test," he said.

"I think this is very important because I believe as ram breeders we are responsible for providing our clients, whether they be AMS members or not, with rams that will make them more profitable."

Ashley believes that measurements taken from hoggets gives a very good indication of the adult production capabilities of the rams.

The Hobbs joined Merino Validation Project (MVP) in its second year and are one of the eight flocks the AMS has contributed out of the 42 MVP flocks involved statewide.

Previously collected sire progeny data has been analysed along with data currently being collected from orange tag progeny to give the RBC sires more accurate EBVs.

"From the index information collated by the MVP, we are then able to commence the genetic comparison of different sheep."

"The MVP measures CFW, wool length, micron, body weight, dag scores, eye muscle area, scrotal circumference and fecal egg counts," Ashley said.

Drenching takes place strategically according to the results of faecal egg counts and all young sheep, weaners and adult flocks are monitored closely. The main monitoring times are late October and March/early April, though stock condition can lead to checking at any time.

"Progeny-tested flocks are group measured for faecal egg counts two or three times in winter and when numbers are up sufficiently, individual tests are conducted," Ashley said.

Scanning for eye muscle area is also conducted on the progeny of single sire mated animals to ascertain meat production characteristics.

Artificial insemination is carried out on four groups of sires from the central nucleus.

One of the AI groups is a link sire and a second link sire is then naturally mated to ewes that have been synchronised to cycle over the week around AI.

Rams are put over ewes in mid-February at a rate of 1.5pc and the best rams from progeny testing are put over the maiden ewes.

Lambing occurs in mid-July to coincide with enhanced availability of pastures.

Pregnancy testing is carried out an all ewes in the commercial flock and both dry ewes and ewes carrying twins are separated from the main flock.

Ewes are run on pasture with special attention given to maintain their condition to a fat score of two prior to lambing.

If a ewe tests dry for a second year, it is culled.

Ashley said twins are common and lambing percentages of ewes mated are between 95 and 105pc over the previous five years.

"2002 was our best lambing yet at 105pc, proving our ewes are working very hard for us, particularly given the season," he said.

The flock is run on a mixture of pastures, consisting of predominantly sub-clover with 60ha of established lucerne and a further 30ha of established lucerne this year.

The heaviest 40pc of wethers are fed in a feedlot situation on the property for six weeks and are sold to the local butchering trade, with the remainder sold as shippers.

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