KNOWING where your commercial Merino flock sits for a range of key production traits can be a valuable tool, especially when it comes to buying rams.
Just ask Mid North breeders Greg and Jane Kellock, who are among 300 producers from across Australia who have used the new DNA Flock Profile Test in the past couple of years.
By randomly sampling 20 of their youngest age group ewes, the test provides the flock average for a range of Australian Sheep Breeding Values.
This includes yearling clean fleece weight, staple length, fibre diameter, eye muscle and fat depth.
On their 2300-hectare property at Farrell Flat, the Kellocks normally run a self-replacing flock of 2500 ewes, along with their cropping program, but due to the difficult season they are down to 1800 breeding ewes.
They first undertook the test through a Sheep CRC research trial in 2015.
Its really important to understand what objectives you want in your sheep enterprise and to measure the traits that you want.
In 2017 they did it again as part of the ASKBILL project, enabling them to measure their genetic progress.
"Its really important to understand what objectives you want in your sheep enterprise and to measure the traits that you want," she said. "This is another way to get that data, another decision-making tool."
Kellock Farming has long recognised the value of ASBVs but say the test results have given them a benchmark when buying rams from Kelvale stud, Keith.
Before the sale they use the RamSelect database to find rams in the catalogue that meet their breeding objectives and are above their flock average.
"We wouldn't buy rams without ASBVs," Mrs Kellock said.
"You can see some physical traits such as staple length and can often see those animals with good eye muscle but worm egg counts and number of lambs weaned are all critical data points that you can't.
"It's about the genetic potential of an animal."
Kellock Farming switched to shearing twice a year about a decade ago and is easily achieving 70 millimetre staple length every six months.
To get the "true dual-purpose animal" they have also focused on improving their meat traits such as eye muscle and growth to enable them to turn off 24 kilogram carcase weight lambs on-hooks.
Improving lamb survival has been another big driver in their business, which has seen them chasing genetic fat, not buying any rams that are negative for the trait.
Mrs Kellock anticipates they will use the test again in two to three years' time.
"You have to have the season to make the most of genetics but genetics play a big role," she said.
"If you are wanting to make changes to your business or are looking at changing studs it is a very good way to look at your ewe flock."
Process taking guesswork out of ram buying
GENETIC evaluation of individual animals has taken the stud sheep industry to another level in the past decade or so.
But a simple test, the DNA Flock Profile Test, developed from the wealth of information gathered by the the Sheep CRC Information Nucleus flock is also helping commercial Merino breeders improve their flock's genetics.
University of New England's associate director of business development and commercialisation Lu Hogan says the test provided by Neogen Australasian is a great tool.
"Ideally you would keep records of the breeding values of the rams you have used in the past but where you haven't or you have bought rams that have not had breeding values, this is a great way of identifying where you are at," she said.
"Say you wanted to improve your fleece weight and didn't know the Australian Sheep Breeding Values of the rams you bought in the past but the flock profile said you were at +10 for fleece weight, you know the rams that you buy need to be quite a bit better than +10 to shift your flock."
The results are uploaded to the RamSelect database with users receiving 12 months free access to RamSelect to help them search for rams.
"It (the test) costs $700 ex GST, which is less than half the price of a good ram, if you are buying rams you have to know what you are buying so you don't waste your money," she said.