THE Merino remains a key part of the 25 million head Russian sheep flock, according to All-Russian Scientific Research Institute of Sheep and Goat Breeding director Marina Selionova.
Dr Selionova, who will speak at the upcoming World Merino Insight conference in Adelaide, said despite a drop in overall flock numbers due to economic reforms in 1990, research continued into wool and sheepmeat productivity in the Merino breed.
“Eighty-two per cent of livestock is in small-scale and household farms, which produce about 38,000 tonnes of wool and 188,000t of meat,” she said.
Main sheep breeding regions in Russia include the North Caucasus and the South, with breeds including the Grozny, Soviet Merino, Stavropol, Dzhalginsky Merino and Caucasian.
Australian genetics from studs such as North Ashrose, Haddon Rig, Bungaree, Collinsville, Uardry, Barton Hill, Roseville Park and Anama have been used to improve Russian Merinos.
Dr Selionova said another sheep breeding region was the Altai and Western Siberia, Zabaykalsky Krai, Buryatia, with the two key Merino breeds being the Zabaykalskaya and Kuludinskaya. The breeds are able to produce quality wool and survive in temperatures that ranged from -40 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees in summer.
Scientific support of the sheep industry was conducted by the institute that Dr Selionova worked for.
“The institute coordinates work in the field of sheep and goat breeding of 30 scientific and scientific-educational institutions,” she said.
“It is known that Russia was the first to develop the method of artificial insemination and technology of using cryo-preserved gametes in the reproduction of farm animals.
“This discovery, and the need to maximise the use of ram semen of Australian selection, repeatedly imported into Russia between 1970 to 1990, have become the rationale for establishing a gene pool cryogenic bank within the institute, which contains more than 70,000 doses of ram semen from 12 breeds.”
Dr Selionova said it was an essential part of selection to be able to test breeding stock on quantitative and qualitative indexes of wool productivity.
“In the accredited wool laboratory, between the period of 2006-15 there have been 4500 animals, including more than 3000 rams and 1000 ewes tested,” she said.
“Testing and individual selection of rams and ewes in this eight-year period has allowed us to reduce the fineness of wool in the main fine wool breeds, the Stavropol, Manych Merino, Soviet Merino and Grozny, by 0.8-2.4 micron, and increase the bright wool yield by 1-3.6pc.
“It has also allowed us to approach the optimum ratio of bright wool yield and liveweight of the animal. Such parameters, in our view, benefit the Merino sheep breed.”
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