INDUSTRY benchmarking is enabling sheep bred using Soft Rolling Skin (SRS) technology to quantify superior wool traits off the back of Merino sire evaluation trials in four States.
Ten of the 12 studs under the SRS Genetics banner have contributed young sires to Australian Merino sire evaluation trials and the Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) resource flock in Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
In WA, the Stud Merino Breeders' Association of WA and Muresk Institute are hosting sire evaluation trials with SRS Genetics members participating.
SRS Genetics chairman Norm Smith said members wanted to carry on the legacy of SRS founder, the late Dr Jim Watts, who encouraged breeders to benchmark their flock in the industry to generate accuracy and repeatability in breeding values.
"Dr Watts was a big believer in fat and muscle and the importance of that to the Merino and was a great advocate of benchmarking SRS sheep," Mr Smith said.
"So the studs have been encouraged to create those linkages to the rest of the Merino industry.
"Breeding values are an important tool for Merino breeders and the more accurate and repeatable we can make those, the more value they have to commercial clients."
Member studs were also benchmarking against others within the SRS group, with their own sire evaluation program, Mr Smith pointed out.
He said SRS Genetics' Young Sire Program involved progeny testing of member flocks, with genetics from three sires used artificially across 10 stud flocks this year.
"The value of the program is improving the accuracy of those rams over a range of environments and creating linkages within flocks," he said.
"(It is) proving to be a valuable tool for stud breeders.
"All three rams in the 2022 Young Sire Program are also in Merino Sire Evaluation trials around the country, adding another layer of linkages."
An SRS Genetics panel selects the rams on visual wool indicators of density and length, conformation and breeding values, for traits including growth, muscle and fat.
Mr Smith's Glenwood stud has contributed sires to Macquarie Sire Evaluation Association, MerinoLink and Bathurst Merino Association trials and the MLA resource flock.
SRS studs are also participating in trials hosted by the NSW Department of Primary Industries, Balmoral Breeders, Australian Wool Innovation, MLA and South Australian Stud Merino Sheepbreeder's Association.
East Loddon Merinos, Wanganella, in the NSW Riverina district, runs 1000 SRS stud and 9000 commercial ewes with fleece averaging 19 microns, with rams ranking in the top 5-10 per cent for lamb survival and reduced breech wrinkle.
This year, East Loddon 2020-drop progeny by their "industry curve-bender" sire in the Balmoral Breeders Merino sire evaluation trial, ranked highest for post-weaning greasy and clean fleece weight and low body wrinkle, with above-average adult fibre diameter coefficient of variation (CV) and staple length.
The progeny was also above-average for flock breeding values for yearling weight and all production indexes.
Stud co-principal Tom Hooke said the sire, East Loddon 180062's top ranking for fleece weight, quantified the SRS Merino's ability to cut wool with a high staple length on a plain skin.
"The ram achieved the fleece weight through density and staple length which has always been the aim of the SRS system and (it) ranked highly for growth, fat and muscle," Mr Hooke said.
"Based on the yearling data, he is sitting at top 5pc in reproduction traits.
"This has allowed us to push the carcase and reproduction traits while progressing wool quality and quantity.
"The benchmarking is hugely powerful - if we have a product which can stand up in the market, we have to ensure we are in the mix and in front of whole of industry."
South Australian breeders Stephen and Peta Kellock, Kelvale Poll Merinos, Keith, have participated in five of the past six South Australian Merino sire evaluation trials and have a young sire entered for the 2022 drop.
In the trial's 2019 drop yearling and adult assessment, progeny of Kelvale Poll 170004 were above-average for yearling fibre diameter CV and eye muscle depth, as well as the leader for staple length.
The progeny also ranked highly for wool whiteness and above-average for adult staple structure, reduced fleece rot, breech wrinkle and breech cover, reduced non-fibre pigmentation and low body wrinkle.
The trial was held at Lameroo using a flock of 20-micron ewes inseminated to 16 industry rams, including three link sires.
Mr Kellock said the stud switched to an SRS system to lower micron, improve wool "handle" and move to a better type of wool.
"The trials were one way for us to benchmark against the industry," Mr Kellock said.
"They have been beneficial as far as creating opportunities to obtain sire linkages."
The Kelvale flock has been non-mulesed since 2007, it is expecting Responsible Wool Standard certification soon and is among the country's top flocks for staple length.
"Our sires have been at the top end of number of lambs in the trials and we put that down to selection for positive fat and muscle or survivability," he said.
"We shear every six months - at the last shearing we didn't have any lines below 70 millimetres (staple length) and one up to 87mm."
Chris Cocker and Shelley Saunders operate Barega Merinos in a 650 millimetre rainfall zone in Tasmania.
As the State's only member of SRS Genetics, they aim for easy-care non-mulesed ultrafine/superfine Merinos with free-growing, disease-resistant soft wool averaging 15.5 microns.
Barega Merinos have contributed sires artificially to the MLA's resource flock 2019 and 2021 joinings.
"It's about developing better linkages for your animal with the breeding values of the traits you are after and we have noticed the carcase breeding values for our 2021 sire have increased," Ms Saunders said.
"That fat breeding value is hidden gold.
"Lamb survivability at the ultrafine end has been about 90-95pc from joining to lambing, after coming from a pre-SRS base in the low 80pc range.
"There is no pin wrinkle with the skin soft and pliable with long bundles of wool and I was staggered how wrinkle can be bred out within a few generations.
"The wool fibres are aligned so there is no fleece rot and the animals dry quickly and yield well."
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