DNA testing has taken the guesswork out of breeding for Victorian sheep mixed farmer Todd Martin, who now has a clear picture of how his flock compares to the rest of the industry and the decisions he needs to make to improve its performance.
Mr Martin was a participant in a pilot trial of the DNA Flock Profile Test conducted earlier this year by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC).
The test provided Mr Martin with the reinforcement he needed that his flock improvement strategy was taking him in the right direction but it also provided him new insights into how to fine-tune his decision making to stretch his production even further.
“We undertook DNA flock profiling for two main reasons: one was to get a gauge on where we are at the moment with our breeding program and to assess whether we are achieving our breeding objectives; and the second one going forward was to help us through RamSelect Plus to assess the potential impact of various options for ram purchases on the improvement of our flock,” Mr Martin said.
“We found it was a really good way to get some objective information to tell us if we were on the right track or not and it showed that there are still areas that we need to work on and that was exactly the point of taking the test.”
The Sheep CRC’s DNA Flock Profile Test involves randomly sampling 20 young ewes for DNA testing, with genetic links then identified with animals of known breeding values from the Information Nucleus database.
These linkages support a prediction of the flock’s average breeding values, which are then scaled to Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for major Merino traits, such as yearling weight, fleece weight and fibre diameter and well as the indices for Fibre Production, Merino Production and Dual Purpose.
Mr Martin runs a self-replacing Merino flock of 1500 ewes at Loddon Downs, located 85km north of Bendigo, Vic. The operation features a mixture of dryland and irrigated country, with about 70% of the business devoted to cropping and 30% to sheep.
He runs the ewe base to produce prime Merino lambs and crosses cull ewes to Terminal sires – as such, his breeding objective is based around the business’s profit drivers of growth rate and fertility.
“The DNA Flock Profile results showed us that we were probably around the top third of the database for our carcase traits, whereas our wool traits we were down around the middle of the database,” he said.