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Beyond the Bale : December 2013
29 David Thompson: “At the end of the day we have high performing sheep that are healthy, in great condition and don’t need mulesing.” RESULTS While David’s primary motivation was flystrike management, his approach resulted in other trait improvements. “By prioritising muscling, fat and growth rates, we’ve been able to lift our lambing percentages by 20 to 25 per cent, to sit at 110 per cent (lambs weaned to ewes mated). This is a huge profit driver and has had a big impact on our business. “We’ve also looked for early maturity and now mate ewes at seven to eight months of age, with lambing down at 12 months of age. Our lambing percentages include these maiden ewes. “While we did take a hit on fleece weight, we’ve been able to drop our average micron from 22.8 to 18.6, thus maintaining our average fleece value.” By 2004 David had made significant progress removing wrinkle from the flock and knew he was in a good position to stop mulesing. “Probably the biggest difficulty we had that first year (2005) was with the tails.” David says they learnt a great deal in that first year, and hasn’t had any problems with shearing or crutching since. He now uses a Te Pari Patesco docking iron and has found the ideal tail length to be around 4cm just below the third palpable joint or to the tip of the vulva in ewes. “We no longer jet and don’t get any bodystrike. There is still a little breech strike, but we have fewer strikes now than when we were mulesing.” David does caution against stopping mulesing too early: “You can’t stop mulesing until the sheep are ’right’.” David’s approach can be adapted and applied by pastoral sheep and wool producers across the country. However additional consideration needs to be given where dags are a significant cause of breech flystrike. There are ASBVs for dag and faecal egg count that can assist producers to benchmark and select for lower dag risk sheep. However, this increases the number of traits that producers could pursue if wanting to decrease flystrike risk in their sheep. This can lengthen the process to breed lower risk sheep, depending on the geographic location and other considerations. David uses both traditional selection methods and ASBVs to inform his decision making. “Figures alone won’t breed you better sheep. All our ewe and ram selections are done visually; we then go back and look at the figures. “With the sire selection we look at everything from feet to body shape, structure and wrinkle. We might select 30 or 40 rams visually, and then overlay the ASBV information to help us make the final cut. In the end we keep around a dozen rams a year for AI and breeding.” David has now turned his attention to fleece weight, which he says is a much more difficult process. “Generally, rams with body wrinkle tend to have higher fleece weights. Over the last two years we’ve been able to breed plain bodied rams that have fleece weights with ASBVs of up to +18 (the industry average is +8) so we’re making good progress.” More information: The full case study and video of David Thompson speaking at ’Moojepin’ is available on the Bestprac website at www.bestprac.info sheep tended to be more robust and appeared to have better muscling. “Muscle and fat are particularly important in tougher conditions, and when feed is poorer. The fat acts like a haystack on their backs; and ewes with more fat on them are better able to rear their lambs. This is a big plus for our pastoral zone clients.” “Around the same time we unearthed two rams with very strong genetics that laid the foundation for the future of our flock. It was from that point that we really started to make the progress we wanted.” In 2003 David received a letter from the Sheep Genetics Merino Validation Project, offering free entry into the Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) system. He wasn’t sure how much value there would be in it, but decided that more information could only be a good thing. David has always kept good records and had full pedigrees, which helped the process. “2004 was our benchmarking year, and in 2005 we started muscle scanning and post weaning weights.” In 2005 David was contacted by sheep researcher, Dr Mark Ferguson, who saw how Moojepin’s genetics measured up in MERINOSELECT – particularly for their consistent, high performance in terms of growth rates, muscle and fat. Dr Ferguson was researching how these traits impact profitability of a sheep flock, with some compelling results. “Using visual scores, supported by ASBVs, we have been able to build a higher performing and more profitable flock.” 29 SELLING MORE WOOL 29 ON-FARM December 2013 BEYOND THE BALE