WEST Australian sheep producers are well placed to capitalise on good prices for sheep meat and improve profitability, according to renowned New Zealand scientist Peter Fennessy.
Dr Fennessy, from consultants AbacusBio, told the Department of Agriculture and Food’s Agribusiness Sheep Updates forum in Perth yesterday that growers ‘have the science’ to reap the rewards of a solid market for lamb.
Dr Fennessy said sheep numbers in New Zealand had declined by more than 50 per cent during the past 25 years as a result of market factors and strong competition for land use from dairy, horticulture and forestry.
However, New Zealand producers had responded to market requirements and tapped into the scientific knowledge to improve productivity on a per ewe basis.
“Meat companies have developed markets for larger cuts so bigger carcases are in demand,” he said. “We’ve been able to satisfy this requirement through a combination of better management and the selection of breeding animals based on leanness and growth rates.
“Producers can now also access better genetic information to increase growth capacity, combined with better management strategies to improve growth performance.”
Dr Fennessy said a genetic improvement had been achieved in New Zealand as a result of consolidation in the breeding sector and larger ram breeding flocks.
“This was motivated by declining sheep numbers as well as higher ram to ewe ratios,” he said.
“New technology, like documenting DNA parentage and comparative ram evaluation, the role of Central Progeny Testing and the influence of new sheep breeds has facilitated genetic gains.”
Dr Fennessy said New Zealand growers had embraced new technology and management options to improve productivity.
“Growers are purchasing better quality rams, using more ewes to terminal sires, making better use of pastures and learning from dairy farmers’ use of pastures to boost their outputs,” he said.
“Of course, this is all helped by a renewed interest in sheep and that sheep are worth more money.”
These investments have resulted in bigger ewes, increased lambing rates, bigger and more robust lambs and ewe hoggets for replacement and the opportunity to join ewes at an earlier age.
“Sheep can still be fairly labour-intensive, so the better sheep farmers are using genetics to reduce animal health costs and are very focussed on their management regime to maximise their potential,” Dr Fennessy said.
“I know many of these initiatives are being pursued in Western Australia through the More Sheep campaign and I am sure the local industry will benefit as my colleagues have.”