University of New England & MerinoLink DNA Stimulation Project
Between 2017-2022, ASHEEP & BEEF partnered with MerinoLink in a sub-project to conduct genetic profile testing and benchmarking of merino flocks in the Esperance area. Participating producers found out the genetic potential of their flock for key production traits, scaled to ASBV’s, such as yearling weight, fleece weight and fibre diameter. They also had the opportunity to benchmark this against others in the Esperance area.
The purpose of the UNE & MerinoLink DNA Stimulation project was to work with a group of seed stock and commercial breeders to increase their use of genetic and genomic tools currently available with the aim to double genetic gain in line with the MLA’s National Livestock Genetic Consortium’s strategic direction by 2022.
The UNE/MerinoLink DNA Stimulation Project (DNA Project) is now finalised, pending the release of a final report. The final milestone was delivered to MLA in 2022. The project was delivered in three stages, outlined below. The Project had 30 ram breeders and 18 commercial breeders participating who breed their own rams, 52 commercial breeders who purchase rams and 7 service providers. The project participants were located across New South Wales, Western Australia and Victoria.
Stage One (2017/18 to 2018/2019) involved the initial Flock Profile test for the commercial breeder participants and DNA Parentage and Genomic testing for the ram breeder participants. A core part of the project has been to provide information to assist project participants in their understanding of the fundamentals of genetic selection and to facilitate access and use of tools such as RamSelect and Flock Profile.
Stage Two (2019/2020 and 2020/2021) involved project participant engagement via one-on-one meetings and group workshops. The meetings and workshops were delivered both face-to-face and online.
Stage Three (2021/2022) involved the second Flock Profile test for the commercial breeder participants, while the ram breeder participants continued to be provided with one-on-one meeting opportunities and group workshops. A final group workshop for the commercial breeder and ram breeder participants will be held in 2022.
ASHEEP & BEEF’s Involvement
ASHEEP & BEEF was involved in the DNA Project since its inception in July 2017. 23 ASHEEP & BEEF members did a Flock Profile test on their 2017 drop ewes and then a follow up Flock Profile on the 2021 drop to compare the results and determine what genetic gain has been made during the project timeframe.
The Flock Profile and Ram Team Manager (tracking the Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) and indexes of a ram team) enabled participants to genetically benchmark their flocks. The Flock Profile also allowed breeders who purchase rams without ASBVs to benchmark their flock.
The Flock Profile provides an average ASBV and index for the flock based on a random sample of 20 sheep.
When the MerinoLink Project finished in 2022, ASHEEP & BEEF had sufficient interest from producers to continue to work in this space with our own project, "Mastering Merino Genetics". This project allows the producers involved to continue to work on the genetic profile of their flock, as well as to bring in new producers.
The below graphs indicate the genetic trends from RamSelect for two commercial breeders involved in the project. Note that the change is quite rapid for Breeder #2, this is because they had a high replacement rate when purchasing new rams prior to the 2020 joining. Click on the images to download a pdf file that can be viewed in more detail.