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Beyond the Bale : June 2019
44 ON FARM Breeding decisions play a vital role in delivering ongoing productivity to Merino breeding businesses. While the decision-making process varies, one established method is through the engagement of a professional sheep classer who applies a unique combination of visual and hands-on assessments to evaluate animals during the selection process. The MLP project is combining the use of sheep classers and their various approaches with measurement-based selection techniques to assess the accuracy of a range of sheep selection scenarios when selecting for ewe lifetime productivity. MLP CLASSING TRIALS The MLP project incorporates a range of approaches to selection including two forms of sheep classing. The first of these, the AMSEA Classer’s Visual Grade, is currently used across all of AMSEA’s Merino sire evaluation trials. It involves a three-way classing of the complete progeny group into tops (25%), CLASSING MERINOS FOR LIFETIME PRODUCTIVITY There are many outcomes of the Merino Lifetime Productivity (MLP) project, but one specific focus is to highlight the role sheep classers play in selecting for lifetime productivity. While it is still early days for the trial, important data is now being generated comparing classing at relatively young ages. flocks (50%) and culls (25%). This reflects an approach that might be undertaken at the commercial flock level. The second form of classing is termed a Professional Grade which involves a five-way classing into tops (1%), studs (9%), seconds (60%), sales (20%) and culls (10%). This reflects what generally happens in a stud selection situation. The ewes are classed randomly as a mob to the site’s breeding objective without access to measurements, data or any sire identification. Both of these approaches are undertaken annually on each drop. Classers also complete an annual assessment of specific visual traits, as is done in Merino sire evaluation trials. Wool, conformation and breech traits are scored according to the Visual Sheep Scores publication, which is available for download at www.wool.com/ breedingpublications. A third classing approach, the Wells Classing Trial, has been established at several sites as an MLP Add-On Project. This method will explore the results from classing within sire progeny groups. Progeny are presented in their sire groups, still with sire unidentified, and the classer is informed of the entrant/sire group’s breeding objective. Classers then class the progeny group four ways as tops (10%), firsts (25%), seconds (30%) and culls (35%) according to the entrant’s breeding objective. Two classers complete this method independently. MLP FAST FACTS • The AWI-funded MLP project is a $7 million (plus $5 million from partners), 10-year partnership between AWI, the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association (AMSEA), nominating stud Merino breeders and site hosts. • The project aims to increase the understanding of the genetics, environment and economic interactions for a diverse range of Merino types producing wool, lambs and meat during their lifetime. • The MLP project runs at five sites where sire evaluation trials operate for the first two years and then continue tracking performance of ewe progeny as they proceed through four to five joinings and annual shearings. • A full suite of assessments will be undertaken during the MLP project including visual trait scoring, the objective assessment of a range of key traits, classer gradings and index evaluations. Nathan King undertaking the Professional classing at the Pingelly MLP site, assisted by Henry Vaughan (November 2018). The Balmoral site committee standing along the classing line looking from the Professional classing box back along the AMSEA Visual classing line and midside sampling point (December 2018). The Wells Classing Trial differs significantly from the AMSEA Classer’s Visual Grade and Professional Grade in that ewes are presented for classing in their sire groups. This recognises that each site is made up of divergent sire types and that not all entrants’ breeding objectives are the same. This MLP Add-On Project is occurring for one drop of F1 ewes at the MerinoLink (Temora, NSW) and Balmoral (Harrow, Vic) sites and on both drops of ewes at the Macquarie (Trangie, NSW) site. Classing will occur at the one year old, two year old and final (at approximately five years of age) assessment to determine how animals visually perform later in their lifetime relative to their earlier visual classing(s). Preliminary AMSEA Classer’s Visual Grade and Visual Sheep Scores, along with the Professional Classing results, are reported at MLP Field Days and within the MLP Reports for each site. These reports are available via www.wool.com/mlp. The overall results of these different classing approaches will be included in the MLP dataset and examined to understand how industry can optimise cost effective selection approaches to better deliver lifetime productivity outcomes. MORE INFORMATION www.wool.com/MLP and subscribe to the MLP quarterly newsletter. MLP Reports an be downloaded from merinosuperiorsires.com.au Geoff Lindon, AWI Program Manager Genetics & Animal Welfare Advocacy 0427 572 228