THE sheep industry has been handed another weapon in the war on flystrike: FlyBoss, a computer-based platform that helps producers find the best combination of strategies for flystrike prevention.
A free web-based tool, FlyBoss allows producers to mix-and-match flystrike prevention strategies - shearing, crutching, chemicals and genetics - and assess which combination will provide the best protection against breech and body strike.
An underlying objective of FlyBoss, developed by the Sheep CRC and its partners, is to help the Merino industry move away from its reliance on mulesing to manage flystrike. That means a plainer-bodied flock.
The program links producers assessing the effect of wrinkle on their flystrike risk with the Sheep Genetics database, where they can research low-wrinkle sires.
But breeding toward greater fly resistance will take time, observes Sheep CRC senior veterinary parasitologist, Dr Brown Besier.
In the interim, FlyBoss uses some sophisticated computing and a wealth of underpinning knowledge to help producers choose the mix of strategies most likely to get them through the flystrike season with minimal problems.
Two years in the making, the tool is now freely available at www.flyboss.org.au to anybody who wants to reconsider their flystrike strategies, whether their sheep are mulesed or otherwise.
Sheep CRC chief executive, James Rowe, said the tool’s predictions have been effectively ground-truthed on the Sheep CRC information nucleus flock, which is located on eight sites across southern Australia.
No lambs from the nucleus flock have been mulesed since 2008, so that it now contains mulesed and unmulesed animals along with the full spectrum of sheep types.
“It’s the nature of the information nucleus to contain a wide range of sheep types, including rams with a range of wrinkle scores,” Professor Rowe said.
“Some of our managers have said they have been surprised to see that FlyBoss has kept flystrike in their ummulesed sheep to the same level as in their mulesed sheep.”
Producers who walk through the site’s forms will get a “cents per sheep” breakdown of the various options they can use, and at the end of the process have an annual flystrike management plan that gives producers a month-by-month guide to the strategies they can use to minimise risk.
Professor Rowe said the FlyBoss algorithms were underpinned by a huge amount of data on climate, pastures, sheep physiology, timing of crutching and shearing, genetics and the various modes of action of the chemical options for addressing flystrike.
But in the long term, the best strategy for reducing flystrike risk was to move to plain-bodied sheep.
Professor Rowe said FlyBoss helped producers assess the effect of wrinkle on their flystrike risk, and then jump straight into the Sheep Genetics database to see whether they could find rams that would lower that risk while meeting other production criteria.
“There are some really good plain-bodied rams out there - and there are also some really wrinkly rams that can get you into trouble.”
FlyBoss will be updated on producer feedback, and as more research information comes to light.
FlyBoss was developed by the Sheep CRC and its partners, AWI, MLA and the State primary industries agencies, and Sheep Genetics.
* Visit www.flyboss.org.au