Genomic Testing Pushing Sheep Breeding to New Levels

Genomic testing means ram breeding has never been faster or more accurate, according to Southern Grampians Merino producer Anthony Close, from Kurra Wirra stud.

Mr Close has been using genomic testing since 2015 and says the results have super-charged the rate of genetic gain in both his commercial and stud flocks.

“We started in 2015 with genomic testing of just our sires and then, in 2018, we got involved with the DNA Stimulation Project with MerinoLink and that led to us doing genetic testing of all lambs and then genomic testing the top 25 per cent of the flock,” he said.

“That helped us make sure we were selecting the right animals to keep for the stud and that our ram selection was spot on.

“What we saw was when we ramped up testing, there was an increase in the accuracy of the data, and we started gaining five or six index points which we were really impressed with.

“That’s when we decided to do the complete ram drop – that’s 600 to 700 rams a year at marking time.”

Mr Close said genomic testing every ram lamb born each year has pushed the stud’s genetic gains to a new level.

“We used to have to wait until they were 15-months-old to do genetic testing but now we’re getting that same degree of accuracy at eight-months-old,” Mr Close said.

“All of our commercial ewes are now being joined with eight-month-old ram lambs and we’ve dropped an entire generation interval, so we save a year with every generation.”

“Before we had to wait and now that time is spent breeding, so we have another drop of lambs on the ground in the time it used to take to just get the first generation to breeding age – it’s actually amazing.”

Being a fifth-generation farmer, Mr Close said he can feel the older generation watching on as he uses technology to make fast gains.

“Dad ran the stud for 40 years, he was an early adopter of testing, and he is impressed with how much more accurate the genomic testing is,” he said.

“He was a little bit sceptical at the start as to whether it would be better than other genetic selection tools but, as the rams get older, he sees that the data isn’t changing – he can see they are performing exactly as their test results said they would back when they were eight months old and that’s proof that what we are doing is working.”

The plan is to stay on this path and step-up data collection again, according to Mr Close.

“Next year we are just going to get the full genomics of every stud animal, which means 1400-1500 sheep, because we can see so much value in having those results.

“We don’t want to just have stud and commercial animals, we want to be able to have levels within those categories and have our most valuable rams sitting at the apex in a smaller nucleus flock so we can utilise them to their full potential.

“Without genomic testing, we couldn’t do that with the accuracy that we can today so it’s an exciting time.”

For more information visit – https://neogenaustralasia.com.au/genomics/