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Beyond the Bale : Dec 08 - Jan 09
22 Productivity Beyond the Bale Objective measurement drives flock performance On-farm fibre measurement (OFFM) has enabled Peter Whitfield to decrease micron while maintaining fleece weight Dorsets, and the better-performing ewes joined to Wayne and Pippa Button’s Manunda (incorporating Haseley) blood rams, which have been purchased with reference to performance figures. “I’m not particularly hung up on the micron,” Peter says. “I just want to make as much money as I can through animals which perform according to market demands. “When I started using OFFM, micron was definitely the main driver. Now I use OFFM to look at the animal as a whole by also measuring fleece and bodyweight and this means I can further improve the productivity and profitability of the flock. “Without using OFFM you’re really just stabbing in the dark.” According to Peter, using an OFFM-QA accredited operator gives him confidence that the information he is receiving is accurate. “Wayne is so passionate about what he does, and his QA accreditation gives me the confidence that the job is being done right. This means that I don’t have to get caught up in the classing of sheep, and can just be confident that we are classing off the right ones.” OFFM and the OFFM-QA accredited operator have WA woolgrower and OFFM convert Peter Whitfield. P eter Whitfield, his wife Sian, and his parents Charles and Carmel run 4,000 breeding ewes and 2,000 dry sheep on his mixed farming property, ‘Flametinge’, 20 kilometres south of Wongan Hills in Western Australia. Despite the property being 70 per cent cropping, Peter is passionate about his flock management, and endeavours to maximise the return from his wool enterprise by responding to market signals. In keeping with this approach, in 1997 Peter decided to subjectively class his breeding ewes into two clear lines – broad and fine wool – in direct response to the wool prices at the time. He was surprised to see that when the wool was sold there was only a 0.1 micron differential between the two flocks, despite the subjective classing. Peter came to the conclusion that there was no way of accurately subjectively classing sheep for fibre diameter. He resolved from then on to use on-farm fibre measurement (OFFM), rather than subjective classing, to improve the productivity of his flock. He hoped the technology would provide a fail-proof method for PHOTO: SIANWHITFIelD identifying and culling poorer-performing animals, and provide important information on which to base sheep and flock-management decisions. When Peter first started using OFFM, he went through his entire flock to “take off the rough edge”. Having achieved this, Peter now limits the testing to his ewe weaners, and all potential breeders are tested before entering the flock. Samples are taken at shearing from each sheep and sent to OFFM Quality Assurance (OFFM-QA) accredited operator Wayne Marshall – ‘The Micron Man’ – for off-site laboratory testing. When the results are returned to the Whitfields, they are used as the basis for the classing of the sheep into two lines: the poorer end are joined to Poll allowed Peter to achieve his initial breeding objective of fining up the flock in response to market demand, while maintaining or slightly increasing fleece weight. By classing off the broader end of the flock, Peter’s micron has fallen from about 22.5 to 21.5 microns over 10 years, and he is confident that fleece weight has increased, although seasonal variation means it is difficult to provide accurate figures. By using OFFM, Peter has been able to: l identify and cull lower-value sheep; l be confident in classing and subsequent flock- management decisions; l accelerate genetic gain; and l improve the flock’s productivity and profitability. Peter believes that the benefits of using OFFM far exceed the costs. “At the end of the day, it all has to come back to the dollars I can make per animal and per hectare. “OFFM and the OFFM-QA accredited operator give me the confidence that I am maximising returns from my sheep enterprise.” ú More information: Australian Wool Exchange (AWEX), 02 9428 6100, www.wooloffm.com.au “ Without using on-farm fibre measurement (OFFM) you’re really just stabbing in the dark.” – PeTer WHITFIelD
February March 2009
Oct - Nov 08