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Beyond the Bale : March 2013
34 ON-FARM Examining the validity of early-life assessment as an indicator of genetic merit throughout the life of a Merino ewe is the role of the proposed new Lifetime Productivity Project. An initial planning team involving a range of research and industry organisations has commenced drafting the proposal after which broad and detailed consultation will take place with a wide range of interested organisations. Strong industry support will be crucial when AWI discusses its investment in the proposed Lifetime Productivity Project in early 2013. Breeding values are increasingly being accepted by the sheep industry as an additional and effective genetic evaluation tool, however there remain further issues to resolve to improve the broad acceptance of such genetic benchmarking. Head of on farm research and development at AWI, Dr Jane Littlejohn said it was important the greater industry was engaged in this research question. "We must focus on the reasons why more wool producers and stud breeders have not taken up these new technologies faster and whether it can be improved," she said. Many of the issues raised by sheep breeders about the adoption of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) would be examined during the Lifetime Productivity Project, such as: Are early-life assessments of productivity, as young as 8-9 months of age, good indicators of actual lifetime productivity? Do plainer sheep hold their productivity at older ages? Are higher indexed animals at young ages strongly correlated with a higher net profit per hectare over a lifetime? Quantifying the trade-off between high reproductive performance (rearing more lambs in a lifetime) and the possible effect on the productivity of the individual (fleece and bodyweight). The issue of lifetime productivity has also been a long standing issue in beef and dairy cattle. In Merinos, assessments both visual and objective have been getting younger and younger over the past 30 years to the point now when some sheep are being selected as young as 7 months but more so from 8 to 11 months. The Lifetime Productivity Project would utilise a large resource flock with sheep located and relevant to sites encompassing a high rainfall, low rainfall- pastoral and mixed farming Mediterranean environments. The draft design includes progeny from two matings of base ewes that will be assessed throughout their lifetime of five lambings. Large progeny groups of ewes by each sire may need to be generated, in order to address the issues around lifetime reproductive performance. This project would significantly improve our understanding of the genetics of lifetime reproductive performance and its interaction with other traits such as growth and wool production. The progeny bred in the project would be evaluated over their lifetime for a range of wool, meat, disease and reproduction traits. DNA samples would be collected for genomic evaluation of predictors of lifetime performance. Additionally, the availability of lifetime performance information, effects such as birth-rearing type and age-of-dam, pedigree and genomic information would contribute to the development of genomic- enhanced breeding values for lifetime traits. Broad consultation with breeders, and research and funding organisations will take place from March to June 2013. A decision on funding the Lifetime Productivity Project is likely later this year after a significant amount of due diligence is completed on information that already exists in breeder and in past R&D flocks. The collation of all past R&D flock results at a central site at Armidale is also planned as part of the whole Lifetime Productivity Program. More information: Geoff Lindon, AWI Program Manager, Productivity and Animal Welfare firstname.lastname@example.org FAST FACTS l A proposed new Lifetime Productivity Project would examine whether early-life assessment of a Merino ewe's productivity is a good indicator of actual lifetime productivity. l The project would aim to address the acceptance and adoption of genetic benchmarking using Australian Sheep Breeding Values. l Broad consultation regarding the proposed project will take place with breeders, and research and funding organisations from March to June 2013. Lifetime productivity review Is early-life assessment of a Merino ewe's productivity a good indicator of actual lifetime productivity? A proposed new Lifetime Productivity Project would examine the issue. March 2013 BEYOND THE BALE