Mastering Merino Genetics
2022 - 2026
ASHEEP Project Coordinator: Jan Clawson
In 2018, a group of Esperance ram breeders and commercial ram buyers joined MerinoLink and the University of New England (UNE) DNA Stimulation Project. The project was not just about testing whether genetic tools work, but about building a system of how the genetic tools can be used in industry. The project took the best tools and knowledge from our leading researchers and delivering it through service providers and breeders to commercial producers.
The project used Genetic Flock Profile testing, Australian Breeding Values (ASBV) and the RamSelect program to firstly benchmark the flock and then used ASBV’s and RamSelect to target genetic gain to meet breeding objectives. The MerinoLink Project has now finished. Information and the final report can be found on its project page.
Several of the Merinolink project participants indicated they would like to see the project continue for another 5 years. They enjoyed the workshops and could see the value in the project.
As a result, ASHEEP developed round 2 of the project now called “Mastering Merino Genetics”.
Image: Wool staple length is a genetic trait that growers focus on improving, this image shows the variation of staple length within a flock, indicating the potential for improvement.
Each participant in Mastering Merino Genetics had their 2021 ewe lambs DNA tested and a flock profile taken to use as a benchmark. They have then been using the RamSelect program to record and analyse their ram team, and attend an annual half day workshop held before ram buying season.
These workshops consist of ASBV refreshers, looking at current flock profiles, setting breeding objectives and thinking about the next ram purchases to achieve those objectives. To cater for all levels of understanding and business enterprise, we break the participants into 3 groups. These group will cover the same information but focus on different stages of the breeding journey.
The first group starts with an introduction to Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV) and using the RamSelect program, create a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Timely (SMART) breeding objective and establish how that might be achieved on the ground.
The second group are those buying commercial rams. This group reviews their current ram team against their breeding objectives and looks at strategies to get the most genetic gain across the whole flock.
The final group are those breeding their own rams. This group reviews their current ram team and breeding objectives, as well as how they are managing the nucleus flock including ewe selection to get most genetic gain across the whole flock.
Caris Cornwall, Orion Ag Consulting has been delivering the workshops. Caris has over 10 years' experience working in the genetics and breeding sector of the livestock industry. Her passion has been understanding the new tools and technologies available and helping producers grow and learn from past, present and future research and development.
Graph: An example of genetic gain over time from the flock of a producer who took part in the MerinoLink project, which started in 2017/18.
Previously, Caris was the project manager for genetics at Meat & Livestock Australia where she managed one of the largest Australian livestock genetics portfolios aimed at ensuring a good return on investment for the livestock industry through an increase in the commercial sectors’ rate of genetic progress. In this role, Caris also facilitated the consultation process for livestock genetics R&D investment as the executive officer of the National Livestock Genetics Consortium. Caris was also responsible for the development and implementation of regional forums and workshops designed to help seedstock producers improve their use of genetic evaluation.
Sally Martin, SheepMetriX was part of the MerinoLink project and has continued to be involved in Mastering Merino Genetics.
Both Caris and Sally are available for participants if they have any questions along the way.
The program is fully self-funded, with participants paying a workshop fee each year. While this is a now a closed group with producer places filled, ASHEEP endeavours to hold an ASBV event open to anyone interested each year while Caris is in town and available.