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University of New England & MerinoLink DNA Stimulation Project

ASHEEP is partnering with MerinoLink in a sub-project to conduct genetic profile testing and benchmarking of merino flocks in the Esperance area. Participating producers are finding out what the genetic potential of their flock is for key production traits, scaled to ASBV’s, such as yearling weight, fleece weight and fibre diameter. They also have the opportunity to benchmark this against others in the Esperance area.  

Project Objective

The purpose of the UNE & MerinoLink DNA Stimulation project is 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.

Project Update

The UNE/MerinoLink DNA Stimulation Project (DNA Project) is in its fourth year and final 12 months. The final milestone will be delivered to MLA in July 2022. The project has been delivered in three stages outlined below. The Project has 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 are 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) has involved project participant engagement via one-on-one meetings and group workshops.  The meetings and workshops have been delivered both face-to-face and online.  

Stage Three (2021/2022) will involve the second Flock Profile test for the commercial breeder participants, while the ram breeder participants will continue 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’s Involvement

ASHEEP have been involved in the DNA Project since its inception in July 2017.  Twenty three (23) ASHEEP members did a Flock Profile test on their 2017 drop ewes and will be doing a follow up Flock Profile on the 2021 drop this spring 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) have enabled ASHEEP participants to genetically benchmark their flocks.  The Flock Profile has 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.

Project Examples

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.