NEW research has shown there should be scope for WA Merino farmers to improve the meat side of their operation due to large variation in reproduction traits.
But there were limited opportunities to enhance average net production, or total weight of lamb weaned (TWW) per breeding ewe, through switching bloodlines.
The TWW trait depended on the number of lambs weaned and the weight of the lambs, which reflected the quality of the product.
There has been more emphasis on meat production attributes of the Merino in light of uncertainty in the wool market and increased prices derived from meat production and the introduction of more meat-breed sheep.
Department of Agriculture geneticist Dr Johan Greeff said any increase in Merino wool production would need to be matched by an increase in body weight or there was the risk breeding weight would decline in following generations.
Breeders should therefore place emphasis on body weight in selection programs.
"You have got difficulty in getting gains in both wool and meat but it can be done using the latest breeding methods," he said.
Dr Greeff, speaking at the agribusiness Meat Research Forum, said the main thing going against the Merino, compared to other meat breeds, was that it required more intense management in areas like fly strike, scouring and worm resistance.
The study into meat production from Merinos was conducted through the Great Southern Agriculture Research Institute at Katanning, where Dr Greeff is based.
The Meat Research Forum also provided data on the latest research into new sheep breeds for live export but it was still too early to gain an answer.