RAPID development in genomic tools available to the sheep industry has seen Merino studs adopting the technology, contrary to popular belief, a new report claims.
With declining flock numbers and rapid acceptance of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) in the past five years, it is now estimated studs registered with MerinoSelect are supplying 47 per cent of Merino sires for commercial flocks in Australia, the report claims.
It estimates more than 80pc of semen used in Merino ram breeding is now supplied by studs using MerinoSelect.
The report, Estimating the growing impact of MerinoSelect by Co-operative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) chief executive James Rowe, said use of MerinoSelect for commercial ram selection was a growing trend.
The last assessment in 2014 estimated only 18pc of Merino rams were produced by studs using MerinoSelect, it said.
Launched in 2005, MerinoSelect provides members with access to a database of sheep genetics related to wool production and specification, carcase, lambing and worm resistance, expressed as ASBVs.
Together with LambPlan, it comprises the commercial products developed using Federal government, CRC and participant funding, offered by Sheep Genetics, the national genetic information and evaluation service for the wool and meat sectors with 6.5 million animals on its database.
Professor Rowe’s report indicates that after an initial rush of registrations the number of studs using MerinoSelect had settled at about 150 by 2011.
But that number had doubled to about 300 by 2015 and last year increased 5pc on 2016 registrations to reach 350 in a rapidly rising trend.
The trend line for studs using MerinoSelect also indicates a much faster rate of increase in ram sales compared to sales from studs that are not, his report states.
The difference in rate of growth of ram sales was about 300 rams a year, or a total of 19,800 more rams sold by Top 20 flocks in MerinoSelect from 2005 to 2016, it states.
For semen sales the trend line indicates nearly four times faster growth from studs using MerinoSelect.
Professor Rowe acknowledges other industry genomic tools like the Information Nucleus program which became Meat and Livestock Australia’s Resource Flock, the RamSelect web-based app and wider DNA testing for parentage, particular traits like poll and production and for flock profiling, had contributed to the trend.
Also, the numbers of sheep recorded each year with Sheep Genetics had jumped from about 50,000 in 2011 to nearly 90,000 in 2014 and by last year was more than 100,000.
But during the period from 2012 to 2016, the report points out, the number of Merino ewes joined to Merino rams dropped from 20.7 million to 17.8 million, reducing the number of rams needed and helping to inflate the percentage of sires chosen from MerinoSelect-registered studs.
“The report focusses on the Merino sector because of its relative importance to the entire sheep industry, contributing over 75pc of the genetic make-up of the Australian flock, and the perception that the Merino sector has been slow to adopt new genetic technologies,” professor Rowe said.
“In fact, the data shows that use of ASBVs is now becoming the norm in the Merino industry, with the number of sheep registered with MerinoSelect having doubled since 2011.
“This trend has been accelerated by the availability of DNA testing and the fast growing demand for poll rams,” he said.
“In reviewing genetic technology uptake in the Merino sector, the trend lines show strong growth in the number of studs using MerinoSelect and increasing sales of rams and semen by studs that are members of MerinoSelect.”
“The availability of DNA tests also appears to have accelerated the swing towards poll rams among Merino breeders and their clients.
“This shows that working with our participants and particularly with Sheep Genetics, the initiatives delivered through the CRC are having a real impact on the industry.
“The use of genomic information through MerinoSelect and the recent introduction of single step analysis will further increase the rate of genetic gain achieved by studs that are members of MerinoSelect and provides further incentive for membership of MerinoSelect,” professor Rowe said.
Sheep CRC operates as part of the federal Industry, Innovation and Science Department’s CRC program.
It is a collaboration of more than 40 organisations from across industry, government and the commercial sector, and includes producer groups, farm advisers, universities and research organisations, meat processors and retailers.