How to breed a better Merino

28 Jul, 2004 10:00 PM
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A DECADE ago Calcaling principals Murray and Athol Ventris decided that an average Merino wasn't going to be good enough for the future of their flock.

The challenge to breed a better Merino led the brothers to adopt the Soft Rolling Skin (SRS) breeding system based on targeting density, alignment and length of fibres as a means of genetically improving the quantity and quality of fleeces produced by their sheep.

"We felt that we could improve upon what we already had and ten years later we are breeding a more fertile and productive animal, with a higher yielding meat carcass as a result of applying the SRS breeding principles," Murray said.

"Across the board at Calcaling we are cutting an average of 8kg per head of 19 micron wool with some of our special breeding ewes achieving better results which represents a substantial increase in the overall productivity of our operation."

At the Calcaling workshop held last week SRS company owner Jim Watts spoke about the SRS breeding principles and compared sheep that were being bred at Calcaling ten years ago to the SRS types now being produced, to illustrate the visual differences in wool length and carcase.

"The SRS system is based upon improving the key genetic components of fecundity, meat value and wool value of the Merino," Dr Watts said.

"The breeding system has specified breeding standards and wool standards that are quantifiable, and has been applied to Merino flocks, Angora and alpaca herds in Australia since 1988."

According to Dr Watts the long term target of the SRS system is to produce a Merino ewe with a weaning percentage of 160 percent that has the ability to turn off a prime lamb similar to - or better than - the prime lambs produced by meat breeds.

Dr Watts said there were a significant number of SRS flocks achieving 120pc weaning, but the aim over time was to increase the figure to 160pc.

"We aim to produce Merino ewe flocks averaging at least 4.5kg of 16 micron wool, 90mm in length every six months on sheep that are shorn twice a year," he said.

"Our objective is to aim for the wool, meat and skins to be used to produce retail branded products of high quality and consumer appeal and to maximize the income received from the wool, meat and skins of SRS sheep as well as the sale of surplus sheep."

Milestones for the SRS Merino since 1988 included an increase in clean fleece weight per ewe by one kg with a reduction in fibre diameter by one micron every five years for 14 years across the board from SRS seedstock providers and some commercial flocks.

According to Dr Watts meat production for six-month-old first cross lambs had reached 26kg, with the best Merino sires reaching +10.0kgs for 200 day body weight EBV's through the Merino Validation Project.

"Fecundity had been developed since 1993 and weaning percentages of 130pc have been achieved with minimal lamb loss and we have developed a Merino sheep that milks from four teats," he said.

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