My name is Stacey Lugsdin and I currently sit on the WoolProducers Australia Board as an Independent Director.
Our family runs a self-replacing Merino enterprise, north-east of Hay on the Riverine Plains. With recent talk about EIDs and ram selling season well and truly upon us I would like to talk about the use of EIDs, Flock Profiling and ASBVs from a Commercial Merino Producer’s perspective. We started using EIDs in 2014 to record fleece weight, micron and body wrinkle of all individual animals, this enabled us to reduce the variability in our wool and look at breeding plainer bodied sheep, without losing our wool weight.
In 2015 we started to use ASBVs to select rams to suit our breeding objectives. The task of choosing the most important breeding objectives proved to be more challenging than we had first thought, so, we settled on what we believed to be the 3 traits that were of most value to us. These were:
· Clean Fleece Weight (YCFW)
· Eye Muscle Depth (YEMD)
· Yearling Fat (YFAT).
These 3 traits were: chosen, while wool is our primary, carcass traits are increasingly important for our wether sales. For our ewes, which run in an extensive semi-arid environment, having better eye muscle depth meant that they had a bigger ‘fuel tank’ and required less supplementary feeding; the visceral fat around the vital organs of our lambs also meant that they had more resources to draw down on if they were a little slower to get up and chase after Mum. One positive correlation we have noticed with introducing carcass traits is an increase in the number of lambs weaned.
When starting to use ASBVs we realised we needed a to understand our starting point and benchmark where our flock currently sat that in order to progress. In 2016 we participated in a pilot project with the Sheep CRC on genomic flock profiling, giving us our starting point. Since then, we have performed a flock profile every 2 years to enable us to keep an eye on our progress and where we were heading in relation to our breeding objectives. Our flock now sits in the top 20% for clean fleece weight and we are in the top 15% of the DP Index (Dual Purpose).
Some valuable advice given to us was, when purchasing your rams do not purchase any ram whose figures are worse than your current flock profile. When looking at ram sale catalogues, we use our flock profile figures to eliminate rams that are under our current benchmark. When attending the open days and ram sales we only look at the rams we have chosen on ASBVs for any conformation faults and to assess wool type. Sometimes we have to pay a little more for the rams we want, however we know that we are purchasing an animal which will take us forward, in line with our breeding objectives. We have recently added Staple Length (YSL) to our breeding objectives, with our recent change to 6 monthly shearing.
ASBVs are a valuable tool for commercial breeders to use in conjunction with visual assessments of rams you are looking at purchasing. However, they are only of use if you have a clear breeding objective, and you know where your flock currently sits.