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Sheep index analysis: best breeders fast tracking genetic gain

JAMIE-LEE OLDFIELD, The Weekly Times
April 21, 2017 12:00am

GENETIC gain should be a key performance indicator for livestock producers., according to Sheep Technical Specialist with DPI Luke Stephen.

Demonstrating the range in gain between the top and bottom 20 per cent of farmers, based on profit indexes, Mr Stephen showed a recent leading breeder’s forum just how big the gap was.

For maternal flocks, the difference was about three points.

“If we are looking at dollar terms, such as we are with maternals, the Maternal Dollar Index, times that out by the amount of ewes you are joining per year in your flock,” he said.

“The thousands of dollars start to rack up, maybe even hitting five figures.”

Based on three years analysis of the Merino Production Plus, the Carcass Plus (terminals), the Maternal Dollar and the Dohne Indexes in commercial flocks, Mr Stephen showed high indexes did not necessarily mean faster gain.

What did affect the rate of gain was pedigree, data collection and data use.

“When you have full pedigree, you are making less assumptions,” he said.

“There is significant problems in our Merino industry with how much full pedigree we are recording.”

The top performing 20 per cent of Merino flocks in the analysis had 72.1 per cent recorded pedigree.

The bottom 20 per cent of flocks had just 20.8 per cent.

Once the lamb was on the ground, it came down to recording more traits, and making those record count, Mr Stephen said.

“If you are spending money to take weights or do fleece weights or carcass scan or even better reproductive records, you’ve got to make them count,” he said.

“You need to measure traits that are impacting on your objective — not good enough to say I am self-replacing if I’m not putting any focus on reproduction and identifying those dams that are weaning you more lambs. If we are not focusing on females, and the role of them, we are actively crippling that rate of gain.

“Find out what you need to focus on to lift performance of breeding program — get maximum benefit out of investment … don’t just spend it for the sake of it.”

Sheep Index Story 2017

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