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Beyond the Bale : Feb 07 - Mar 07
By Kellie Penfold Taking 1400 faecal samples for internal parasite egg counts in one day is a lot of sheep's bottoms, but at the Falkiner Memorial Field Station (FMFS) it illustrates the scale of the research being carried out for the SheepGenomics project. Located just outside Deniliquin in southern NSW, FMFS is the AWI-owned farm that, since being acquired from CSIRO in 2002, has been established as a commercially focused centre for wool industry research. The field station was originally donated to the wool industry for the purposes of research and development by the Falkiner family of 'Boonoke Merino Stud'. Their bequest was made in memory of two family members killed in World War II. For the past two years, FMFS has been the home of a DNA marker research flock, providing a vast amount of the information needed for research within SheepGenomics, which is a $30 million DNA-based research project funded by AWI and Meat and Livestock Australia, and run in partnership with 11 research organisations. By 2008, SheepGenomics will have identified a suite of gene markers for traits of economic importance and will commercialise those markers for use in the sheep industry. George Nichols, FMFS research manager, says the two most hectic years of data collection have ended and the flock -- comprising Merino and meat breeds -- is down to 4000, from more than 5000 at its peak. "A project of this magnitude has not been conducted anywhere in the world, so we had to create our own solutions to the problems we faced, such as collecting faecal egg samples in a uniform manner quickly and easily," Mr Nichols says. "It's been about establishing data collection systems, utilising technology and working with good contractors to get the job done properly." In the first two years of the project there were 543,125 handlings of sheep to collect 197,500 samples or pieces of data. This also resulted in 495 litres of blood and 350 kilograms of faeces collected. They have collected 45,500 blood samples for DNA and a further 6000 for parasite research, and taken 30,000 live weights. Mid-side samples and fleece weights have been taken from 7750 sheep, and 5500 ewes have been pregnancy-scanned twice. "In one yarding we can record up to 14 different measurements, which can mean each animal tag is scanned four times," he says. "And you are dealing with all breeds and all sizes from 70kg down to 30kg." As the intensity of the data collection scales down, the wether portion of the 2006 progeny will be sold for slaughter in groups of 120 until the end of March 2007, for the measurement of carcase traits. Blood samples of every animal, including those being killed, are collected for future research. "The scale of the project provides a challenge to our management systems, both of the flock and the farm," Mr Nichols says. "For example, as part of the parasite project all sheep are challenged with live parasites, and they all need to go on to clean paddocks for 25 days while shedding worms so they can be accurately measured. All 2800 sheep need to be able to run in the same conditions to keep the results accurate." Farm manager John Murray says while irrigation allocations have been low, the investment made by AWI in improving paddock design and irrigation layout has helped with pasture improvement, while other areas are being rested to allow regeneration of native pasture species. "It can be a real juggle at times," Mr Murray says. "The biggest pressure is at lambing: we needed 21 paddocks for lambing ewes to collect lambing data for each sire group." The FMFS team regularly hosts researchers and scientists, who often help take samples. "They always get a surprise at the intensity of the work going on here," Mr Nichols says. "It's just the same as if we walked into a lab and tried to understand what they were doing. "That is why we are always happy for groups of woolgrowers to come and have a look at what goes on here. It helps them understand the volume of research being conducted in SheepGenomics and realise the potential of the long-term solutions the project will bring to the sheep industry." Mr Murray points out that many of the systems established to handle large numbers could also be of benefit to woolgrowers. "We are operating with the latest technology on a large scale and giving it a real workout. It is a large-scale trial of the latest electronic equipment." ú More information: George Nichols, 03 5884 6611, email@example.com or www.sheepgenomics.com Data legacy builds wool's future For two years the Falkiner Memorial Field Station in NSW has been home to a research flock that is feeding data into the SheepGenomics program 5 GENETICS BEYOND THE BALE Farm manager John Murray (left) and research manager George Nichols at the sheepyards at Falkiner Memorial Field Station. PHOTO: KELLIE PENFOLD Breeding workshops Sheep Genetics Australia (SGA) plans to inform more ram breeders about the value of genetic information through a series of workshops and information sessions. "Some breeders and buyers are very aware of the work of SGA and where it is headed, while others have some knowledge," says newly appointed SGA manager Richard Apps. "And there is still a group who is interested but hasn't yet had the opportunity to learn more. "Therefore, throughout 2007 we will run events designed for both those who are SGA users and other ram breeders who are interested in learning more." For ram breeders who are not presently evaluating their flocks with SGA, there will be a one-day Introduction to SGA workshop to be held in locations central to groups of interested breeders. A separate Ram Breeders workshop has also been designed for users of SGA to update them about new developments and provide assistance with the understanding and use of SGA breeding values in their flocks. Ram buyers or commercial breeders wanting to find out more about SGA are encouraged to participate in a Money Making Merinos workshop, run by the EDGEnetwork. "There will be a lot of developments with SGA this year, as we move from the establishment phase into delivering results for woolgrowers and lamb producers," Mr Apps says. "We are in the process of developing a standard scoring system for visually assessed traits.This scoring system will enable the submission of visually assessed characters into SGA and the subsequent estimation of genetic performance for these traits. "In the future, breeding values for traits like wool colour and body wrinkle will be available." Dr Alex Ball, the former manager of SGA, has moved into a new role as Meat and Livestock Australia manager for Lamb and Sheep Meats Research and Development, but will continue to liaise closely with SGA. Richard Apps was previously the SGA LAMBPLAN project officer. ú More information: Introduction to SGA workshop, 02 6773 2948; SGA Ram Breeders workshop registration, 02 6773 3191, firstname.lastname@example.org; Money Making Merinos (commercial breeder) workshop registration, 1800 993 343, email@example.com
Feb 07 - Mar 07 Supplement
Dec 06 - Jan 07