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Beyond the Bale : Aug 07 - Sep 07 Supplement
By Dr Gio Braidotti Photo by Matthew Cawood On the 2000-hectare 'Ruby Hills' in New England, NSW, Andrew Burgess breeds his own rams and runs 5000 fine and superfine Merino ewes, in addition to 1000 cross- bred ewes for the lamb market. Some years ago, Mr Burgess did a business analysis and found that the cost of animal-health remedies was the property's biggest problem: worms, in particular, were eating into profits. He admits that he was initially sceptical when the case was made that a breeding program could be used to embed worm resistance into his sires and flock. "At first I thought it was crazy, but the worm problem was out of control and the more we thought about it, the more prepared we were to give it a go," Mr Burgess says. Back when he started, breeding for worm resistance relied exclusively on faecal egg counts (FECs), a measurement that initially proved highly variable. Counts on a few progeny proved nowhere near as accurate as testing most of the progeny of a particular ram. But as the data mounted, the ability to spot the trait reliably also increased. These days, in contrast, sires and semen with proven and heritable worm resistance are readily available resources. "Finding resistant animals using FECs back then was like looking for a needle in a haystack," he admits frankly. "The repeatability of the measurements was low but we plugged away -- we had to. The worm problem was out of control." It took a while, but worm resistance is a quite heritable trait and eventually the benefits of the breeding started kicking in. "Worm resistance is now so strongly embedded in the flock that we have no problem whatsoever finding resistant animals with very good production traits," Mr Burgess says. As a result, there are ever-fewer situations on 'Ruby Hills' where the stock are "really wormy". "Even in the past couple of years, when the weather created horrendous worm conditions, the flock stood up really well. The impact of all that selective breeding is starting to be noticeable." Mr Burgess insists that getting started today is far easier: genetic data, sires and semen are now readily available through the national database, Sheep Genetics Australia (SGA). He describes as irrelevant the charges associated with using SGA: "The cost of getting the genetics right is minuscule compared to the BREEDING FOR PARASITE RESISTANCE With 16 years' experience using genetic breeding tools, Andrew Burgess discusses selecting for worm resistance on his proper ty 'Ruby Hills' PARASITES benefits in wool sales." Having accumulated a total of 16 years' experience with genetic calculations, Mr Burgess has come to view breeding values as a way to ensure the continued profitability of 'Ruby Hills'. In all, he uses SGA to work on about five traits in addition to worm resistance. "With wool it can be a bit of a juggling act," he says. "For example, with a premium being paid for staple strength -- a trait that has a genetic component -- I've been making some changes and shifting the emphasis to the most profitable combinations." So even with the feed situation on a knife- edge because of drought -- a situation that has the farm at 65 per cent of optimum carrying capacity -- Mr Burgess continues to maintain his breeding program and to fine-tune his breeding objectives. "We recently had rain, but too late in the season. Now the cold is limiting pasture growth and it may be a struggle to get the stock through winter without feeding. But we keep the genetic breeding going. We look at it from a long-term perspective, and the progress we've made has been extraordinary." ú More information:Andrew Burgess, email@example.com, www.rubyhills.com.au 12 BEYOND THE BALE BREEDING FOR PROFIT SUPPLEMENT Andrew Burgess breeds his own rams and is stopping worms eating into the profits.
Oct 07 - Nov 07
Aug 07 - Sep 07