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Beyond the Bale : September November 2009
The use of MERINOSELECT Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) is continuing to expand, particularly for the harder-to-assess traits such as pedigree, worm egg count (WEC), eye muscle depth (EMD) and staple strength (SS). In 2008 there were 39 Merino studs that each sold more than 300 rams; of these rams, 70 per cent were sold by members of MERINOSELECT. In the same year, 43 studs each sold 200 to 300 rams, of which 46 per cent were sold by MERINOSELECT members. Here we take a look at three stud breeders from different regions of Australia who are using ASBVs. LEO BLANCH 'WESTVALE MERINO STUD' -- WOLLUN, NSW 'Westvale Merino Stud' principal Leo Blanch is using MERINOSELECT to improve traits crucial to his business of producing spinners' wool in the New England district. The stud is breeding the same type of sheep that were produced when it was established by his father Roy in 1948: large bodies with wool that is highly crimped, well nourished and soft handling, suitable for Italian spinners and weavers. Under the eye of stud overseer Scott Matthews, 'Westvale' sheep have an average micron of 17.5 and cut 4.3 kilograms. A flock of 7000 sheep, including 600 stud ewes, and a herd of 400 Charolais cattle are run on the 1211-hectare property at Wollun in New England. Leo decided to use MERINOSELECT in 2000 for two reasons: to give the stud a sales edge in a district highly regarded for fine and superfine genetics, and to help with breeding and selection, particularly for the non-visual traits of worm resistance (WEC) and staple strength. These traits are particularly relevant for 'Westvale' as worm burdens are a major problem in the New England district and staple strength is prized within the spinning market. "WEC is the big hit in the New England area as people are having trouble with drenches and need another way to combat the problem," Leo says. "Our WEC ASBV is a big drawcard for us as we're able to provide worm-resistant sheep with traditional type wool year in year out. "Spinners' wool needs to be sound and our staple strength measurement will prove a good sales pitch for Italian buyers who will demand it more and more." Leo believes MERINOSELECT will also help producers target and maintain their required style, which has not been something that could be measured. "Softness, crimp and curvature are all measurements that can now be assessed to produce the style you want." Scott Matthews, who has worked at 'Westvale' for 11 years and been stud overseer for the past five, says sheep must be hardy to survive the wet conditions of the area, so ASBV figures must be balanced with visual assessment. Scott is responsible for collecting and manually entering the data into a laptop. Lambs are weighed three times -- at weaning (four months), at 10 to 11 months (when the animal is shorn, a sample of wool is taken and a WEC test performed) and at 16 to 18 months. Data from the third weighing, as well as a scrotum circumference measurement, are used in their on-property sale catalogue. ASBVs are also printed in the sale catalogue and these are requested more each year by producers. "They like to have a backup of what they're seeing," Scott says. "The beauty of the ASBVs is they're not judged against our own flock but against other studs, which gives them credibility. "We have been using information such as WEC in our flock joining and the results are correlating with the MERINOSELECT data. This has helped our marketing as we have visual results as well as data results for breeding. We want three or four bidding on each sheep to boost the value and MERINOSELECT has done that." Last year's sale average of $1975 at the 25th 'Westvale' on-property sale was the second highest in the state. MICHAEL CAMPBELL & GABRIEL McMULLEN 'COROMANDEL POLL MERINOS' -- GAIRDNER, WA 'Coromandel Poll Merinos' co-principals Michael Campbell and Gabriel McMullen began using MERINOSELECT to improve September -- November 2009 BEYOND THE BALE 24 GENETIC IMPROVEMENT ASBVs drive genetic gain and industry progress 'WESTVALE' l 'Westvale' is using MERINOSELECT to improve traits crucial to its business of producing spinners' wool in the New England district. l MERINOSELECT helps 'Westvale' particularly with the non-visual traits of worm resistance and staple strength. 'Westvale' stud overseer Scott Matthews.
June August 2009