Stock Journal

Genomics refine data

WOOL QUALITY FOCUS: John Sutherland and Peter Small inspecting elite wool for Toorallie's winter 2020 knitwear range.

This is advertising content for Pooginook Merino.

FOCUSING on profit driving traits such as fertility, wool cut and carcase quality, and backing up breeding decisions with DNA parentage and genomic testing, is paying off for Pooginook Merinos.

The Jerilderie, NSW-based stud has always used a combination of visual and objective selection, but in the past few years, has turned to DNA parentage and genomics testing to get more accurate, objective data on the sheep.

Pooginook Merinos includes a 6000-ewe stud flock, with 4000 in the nucleus flock, and an elite 1000-ewe flock.

The stud sells about 1200 rams a year, including 500 to 600 to Paraway Pastoral Company properties.

"We've concentrated on keeping good quality wool and fleece weight, whilst putting it on a plainer bodied sheep with better carcase traits," stud manager John Sutherland said.

Pooginook is known for heavy cutting, high quality, white, crimpy wool that can handle rainfall and wet sheep zones.

With the Merino being used as a dual purpose sheep, following improved markets for wether lambs and sale sheep, clients are looking for easy care sheep with early growth, Mr Sutherland said.

Now we shear twice a year and we're getting in excess of 60mm every shearing, which is a big boost in profitability.

- Pooginook client Mark Carroll, Freshwater Creek, Vic

"Everybody wants more lambs, and we've been focusing on growth for carcase quality and lamb survivability, while maintaining our wool quality. Every mouthful a sheep eats has got to go into carcase, wool quality or fertility, so it's important for us to keep that balance."

For the past five years, the Pooginook team has worked on optimising nutrition for the true genetic expression of sheep, and has helped others by sharing the best science around nutrition through workshops at stud workshops or clients' farms.

"We seek nutritionists advice about feeding strategically, for joining, how to manage scanned in lamb ewes, and weaner management," Mr Sutherland said.

Pooginook has been working with the Bayer Grow animal agronomist team led by Rick White, alongside Elders livestock production manager Rob Inglis, to optimise nutrition for pregnancy and lamb survival.

"In my working life I've been through three bad droughts and this one is up there, but those who have done their budgets, and are feeding sheep to optimum - not maximum - production will get through it," Mr Sutherland said.

"With the weaners we're using EID (electronic identification) tags and a five-way drafter to draft and manage them by weight, so they're fed accordingly, which gives them an equal opportunity to express themselves and we can select sheep that are genetically superior. So when we're classing the next year it means we're classing genetically, not based on the management."

The Pooginook crew has been using EID tags since 2008, and DNA parentage testing for the past three drops.

"The genomics testing over the past three years has really put us up to another level, because with DNA parentage testing the predictability becomes a lot more accurate," Mr Sutherland said.

"We've also been able to take out some low performing sheep in this drought to keep our costs down.

"Knowing the parentage means you can know how the mother's progeny performed for growth, micron, fat and muscle scores and ultimately how they are classed up.

"Over time you know the performance record of each breeding ewe and we are now in the position where we have four-, five- and six-year-old ewes with enormous amounts of data on them. By knowing that a ewe continually produces progeny of value, be it saleable rams or animals retained in the stud, adds a whole new dimension to mature age ewe classing.

"At Pooginook we are working not only on improving the stud's genetic gain but also actively reducing the wastage, thus producing a more uniform product for our clients. We've worked out the pedigree of sires before, but we've never had full parentage on 4000 of the best stud ewes, but we've done that to improve accuracy of the data collection."

Boost in fertility, wool cut, profitability

MARK Carroll runs 850 ewes on about 230ha at Roseheights, Freshwater Creek, near Torquay in Victoria, and has been using Pooginook rams for seven years.

"I initially used them as a trial, to breed a bigger animal with more wool cut," he said.

"I was impressed with the first lot of lambs and converted to them after that for their growth, wool quality and wool cut. The Pooginook sheep have a bigger frame and they're plainer bodied with a better carcase."

The property, about 30km south of Geelong, averages 650mm in annual rainfall, with year-round coastal showers.

"These sheep come from the Riverina into high rainfall, high rotation system and they're delivering," Mr Carroll said.

"We really need that white, bright wool but also a free staple, and after using Pooginook rams, our wool's improved in quantity and quality. Before, we were shearing once a year. Now we shear twice a year and we're getting in excess of 60mm every shearing, which is a big boost in profitability."

But the biggest improvement is in the flock's fertility.

"As we put more Pooginook blood into our flock we're getting more twins," Mr Carroll said.

Wethers are lotfed from four months and turned off before 12 months of age.

"They're profitable sheep. We have potentially two wool clips from them and a very good carcase value in less than 12 months."

This is advertiser content for Pooginook Merino.