Genetics are a powerful tool to help address the animal health, welfare and labour issues that challenge the sheep industry and add significant cost to producers.
This was highlighted at the final field day of Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics three-year Low Input Progeny Test which was run on South Canterbury’s Orari Gorge Station.
Owned by Robert Peacock and his family, Orari Gorge Station, with its predominately hill country terrain and 1200mm annual rainfall, proved to be the ideal testing ground for low input genetics.
Dan Brier, B+LNZ General Manager Farming Excellence, says since the start of the Low Input Progeny Test (LIPT), the number of breeders who have been recording and selecting for low input traits has increased significantly.
“I really encourage commercial farmers to ask their ram breeder whether or not they are selecting for these traits and if not why not.”
“We are now farming in an environment with increased drench resistance, changing market demands, labour shortages and soaring input costs. The LIPT has shown that there are animals that will perform, without tailing or drenching, in a tough environment with significant parasite challenges.”
“It is these genetics that will help carry our industry forward.”
He says breeding is permanent and cumulative and can result in reduced costs as well as improved animal health and welfare outcomes.
“Genetics are not a short-term fix, they are a long-term solution.”
Each year, 17 rams from a range of breeds were submitted from breeders throughout the country. Many of the participating breeders have been selecting for low input traits.
Robert’s commercial ewes were artificially inseminated or naturally mated. They were pregnancy scanned and the progeny DNA tested at tailing. Tail length and the length of the bare skin under the tail were also measured. These were the first of many measurements taken of the progeny, others included weaning weights and growth rates, faecal egg counts (FEC), dag scores, eye muscle area, carcase data, wool quality and weights, hogget oestrus, bare breech and belly, methane emissions and residual feed intake.
Robert Peacock says dag scores were the biggest eye-opener for him throughout the trial and the difference between the sire lines was phenomenal. Some of the worst lambs were carrying up to 4kg of dags.
During the LIPT, tails were left on all the male lambs which makes a huge difference when it comes to dags, but this could become a reality in the future as some countries are already banning tailing.
Robert says dags, which are highly heritable, are a huge opportunity and the easiest and cheapest trait for stud breeders to measure.
Contrary to popular belief, dags are poorly correlated with FEC – so worms don’t always cause dags.
Dags are also a labour issue, as while shepherds are very happy to go mustering, they are far more reluctant to spend a week in the yards dagging lambs.
Tail length, tail skin, bare breech and bare belly are all highly heritable traits, however, for some breeds such as the Romney, there is little within breed variation for traits such as bareness and tail length. This means it will take a long time to make any progress without outcrossing.
Methane is highly heritable, but rams should be primarily selected on performance and then low methane emitting genetics included in the criteria, rather than single trait selection
Internal parasite resistance, expressed at FECs, are also highly heritable and an increasingly important trait with the emergence of triple drench resistance.
Visit the B+LNZ Genetics website to watch a recording of the Field Day and find out more about these traits.