AFTER four years, the Merino Lifetime Productivity (MLP) project continues to gather crowds at its annual field day, held at The University of Western Australia (UWA) Ridgefield property at West Pingelly.
Last week was the Pingelly site's third annual field day, giving attendees the chance to view the 2016 and 2017-drop ewe progeny groups and their results to date.
The day also gave interested parties the opportunity to speak with the site's committee members, sire breeders and industry connections.
Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association (AMSEA) partnered up to put this project together and while the project began in 2015, the Pingelly site wasn't started until 2016, with the artificial insemination (AI) of 15 sires to foundation ewes, which created the 2016-drop progeny.
The $13 million funded project will run over 10 years and is one of the biggest and longest Merino genetics trials ever undertaken.
It aims to increase the understanding of genetics and create a database which producers will be able to use to better predict how a Merino ewe will perform over their lifetime, to ultimately increase profitability.
The project is conducted across five different sites, including Pingelly (WA), Balmoral (Harrow, Victoria), Merinolink (Temora, New South Wales), New England (Armidale, NSW) and Macquarie (Trangie, NSW), where sire evaluation trials operate for the first two years and from then on the performance of the ewe progeny is tracked.
A consequence of the trial running for several years is that the people involved can only speculate and provide updates on the trials' progress, with no conclusive results being available until they end in 2023.
The afternoon began with AWI and MLP program manager genetics and animal welfare advocacy Geoff Lindon presenting an overview of each pen of ewes, pointing out the individual trait leaders in each group before comparing how each ewe progeny measured against other sire progeny groups.
Mr Lindon continued his talk by discussing what happens during the trial.
During the trial each of the ewes (F1) is shorn six to seven times and joined four to five times, producing 25,000 lambs across the five sites.
The ewe progeny from the 134 sires, known as F1 ewes are annually wool sampled, visually scored, fleece and body weighed, carcase scanned, faecal sampled and classed.
The F1 ewes are joined to Merino sires from 18 months of age, with all reproduction data being collected until they are 5 to 6-years-old, while the resulting F2 progeny leave the project following the collection of DNA and weaning weight.
Next to speak was MLP Pingelly site manager Bronwyn Clarke, who discussed the genetics side of things, outlining the raw data, adjusted sire means and flock breeding values (FBVs) that have been collected throughout the project so far.
Ms Clarke also discussed the lack of ASBVs and breeding information on any adult animal.
"We just don't have the data to get Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for the older animals and that's why this project is so important," Ms Clarke said.
Ms Clarke also went on to reveal some interesting correlations between different traits to date and the possible effects the final results at the trials end could have on the way people select and breed their sheep.
The final speaker of the day was former Murdoch student Sarah Blumer who discussed genetic evaluation, productivity, efficiency and profitability.
The focus of her talk was on feed intake and efficiency in wethers and how individual wethers gained weight and stored whole body energy differently and how this could help producers in their selection of sheep.