The changing face of the Merino ewe – increasing bodyweight combined with a focus on wool, carcass, welfare traits and resilience – means adult data collection is more important than ever.
This was a key message to woolgrowers from Australian Wool Innovation genetics program manager Geoff Lindon at the MerinoLink field day at Temora, in southern NSW, on March 16.
Mr Lindon said industry changes, including classing sheep at a younger age and the lower emphasis on the annual classing of adult ewes, contributed to the importance of the Merino Lifetime Productivity Project (MLP).
MLP is a partnership between Australian Wool Innovation and the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association, and was showcased at the MerinoLink field day.
Mr Lindon said the MLP project would expand the collection of adult data at the five national sites, encompassing 5000 F1 ewes.
“Industry has a higher percentage of breeding ewes and are not carrying the wethers we once did,’’ he said.
“The Merino is changing – body weight is increasing and there is a focus on wool and lamb, welfare traits and resilience, combined with a move from dollars per head to dollars per hectare.
“The advice from geneticists is one set of adult data is required but industry isn’t necessarily collecting adult data.
“Industry is collecting a large amount of yearling data and a little hogget data.’’
Mr Lindon said the MLP would answer questions on the impact of high growth or low wrinkle on wool cut and quality.
It will also examine if ewes with more fat and muscle have more lambs and lower lamb mortality; if the current indexes are well correlated to lifetime productivity, does productivity changes as they age, and what is the best mix of visual and objective selection.
Around 120 NSW and Victorian woolgrowers gathered to network, learn and hear the latest results in the MLP project at the field day.
The project’s 350, 2016-drop ewes were pregnancy scanned and displayed with raw data, adjusted sire means and within-site and within-drop flock breeding values.
They had been naturally joined as a syndicate mate for five weeks to eight rams donated by Robert and Mark Mortimore, Centre Plus Merinos, Tullamore.
The March shorn, 22-month-old ewes were fat scanned for the second time at joining in December and pregnancy scanned on March 12.
They were penned at the field day in their sire groups with pen cards carrying raw data on weaning and hogget liveweight, greasy and clean fleece weight, micron, staple length and strength, fat and eye muscle depth.
Flock breeding values and the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association Index were also displayed.
A total of 430, 2017-drop ewe weaners were penned in their sire groups. They had been weaned in late September and carried weaning and post weights and worm egg count data.
From the two drops, there were 25 industry joining sires, including four link sires to allow results to be reported across the nation’s five MLP sites.
The participating Merino studs in the MerinoLink MLP site are Bella Lane, Boyanga, Bundilla Poll, Centre Plus, Collinsville Poll, DT Kenilworth, Glen Donald, Greendale, Lachlan Poll, Leachim Poll, One Oak No 2, Pastoral Poll, Poll Boonoke, Pooginook Poll, Roseville Park, Tallawong, Toland Poll, Trefusis, Trigger Vale Poll, Wallaloo Park Poll, Wattle Dale, West Plains Poll and Wurrook.
MLP site project and data manager at Temora, Sally Martin, said the 2016 ewes were managed as a single mob since weaning and split only for lambing.
The 2016-drop ewes were classed and mid side sampled on March 5, the 2017-drop ewes were classed on the March 7, and the 2017-drop wethers were shorn on March 9.
Ms Martin said all ewes classed as culls stayed in the project for their lifetime to allow research to occur including a lifetime economic analysis of the visual classing and objective assessments.
Data has been collected at tagging, weaning, post-weaning, yearling, hogget and early adult, and will continue to be collected for five lambings.
Visual traits measured include breech, pigment, wool quality, conformation and classing grades along with body weight, condition score, eye muscle depth and fat depth.
The 2016-drop ewes were shorn this week and measured for micron, fleece weight, yield, staple length and strength.
Ms Martin said while the key analysis would be “within project’’, all data would also be submitted to the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association and Sheep Genetics for analysis by the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit.
Commercial wool grower and MerinoLink chairman Richard Keniry said MerinoLink originated from the need for an impartial, commercially focused company to facilitate research and disseminate information.
“Our passion is to provide information to test the boundaries of the modern Merino, to look at all the tools we have got today and what’s coming in the future with technology,’’ Mr Keniry said.
“At a time when we are getting fantastic returns out of sheep, we should be looking at where our next investment to ensure our future is brighter.
“Our idea is to keep pushing the envelop for the Merino and the sheep industry.’’
Frank Kaveney, Tallawong Merinos, Yass, was among the stud masters taking part in the MLP project.
“This is the first time in a few years I have participated in a sire evaluation trial as I have a young polled ram with bright, lustrous and well defined wool, good fleece weight and micron,’’ he said.
“I wanted to benchmark him against others in the industry.’’
For a comprehensive report on the MLP 2016 and 2017-drop ewes visit www.merinolink.com.au or www.wool.com/MLP