A recent sheep technology field day held at the Berry's "Deep Dene" property on Kangaroo Island was well attended.
KI wool producers Mitch and Ros Willson were happy to share their learnings when it comes to improving the profitability of their Merino enterprise.
"Back in the 1990s we became involved in a weaner trial with eight other producers on Dudley Peninsula," Ros said.
"The variation in fleece value was huge, not only between individual animals but also between the original property of birth.
"We were near the bottom, so it was a big motivation for us to improve our profitability."
Mitch and Ros decided to change their genetics from the easy care, cut no wool blood line, they were following to a high fleece weight stud that was popular at the time.
That move certainly increased the wool cut per hectare, but little emphasis was placed on colour or wrinkle.
Then in the early 2000s, the call become "get fine or get out".
The Willsons then used OFDA - real time micron testing - and culled all ewes with a micron greater than 21.
"We then added fleece weighing to the mix," Ros said.
"But reading sheep tags, hand writing all the data...it just became all too hard with too many errors.
"We then decided to only select rams from studs with ASBV's, but we were still getting a lot of variability in our flock and felt we had a high cull rate."
Finally with technological advancements in the sheep industry, the Willsons decided to do some trial DNA work with Neogen, who offer various commercially priced DNA testing programs.
A representative sample of DNA was collected from the ewe hoggetts using TSUs.
This was then used to produce a "flock profile" encompassing a variety of traits including CFW, micron, Fat, EMD, growth.
"We can use this data to assist with buying rams in the future to ensure they meet our breeding objective and will improve our flock," Ros said.
"We also took DNA samples from our rams and linked this to the DNA from our hoggetts to do a 'parentage test'.
"After further assessments on the ewes for visual, fleece weights and micron, we can correlate back to identify the rams throwing the best progeny."
The testing is quick and easy, a small sample of tissue is taken from the sheep's ear using an applicator that cleanly transfers it into a vial.
The results showed the flock is genetically capable of producing a higher wool cut then they see from their benchmarking data.
Reaching approximately 70 to 80 per cent of the flocks' potential is possibly more profitable than having a massive feed bill.
Dan Rowe, Neogen, went on to explain that genetic testing takes the guess work out knowing exactly what your stock will produce.
Agents are now working with buyers who are demanding to know what they are buying, that is true growth rates, microns or fleece weights, not just the "feed forced" micron or stock weight.
Tim Johnsson, Breedelite, explained the differences between thinking of technology and data as a system from question to action, which make money, instead of pieces of tech, software and data, which cost money.
The Breedelite sheep management system enables producers to make decisions based on data not guess work.
By combining all the facets into one - the software to record and analyse the data, the eID smart reader to record all the data from tags to visual scores to fleece weights, the fleeceweigh system to capture weights, show historical test and wool data and the smart drafter to automatically weigh or draft your sheep on any data combination.
Host Caitlin Berry wrapped up the morning explaining how her operation has used ASBV's to improve the genetic merit of their stud whilst still keeping true to the Deep Dene motto of easy care sheep bred especially for the KI environment.
The event and trial work undertaken by the Willsons was made possible through funding AgKI received from the federal government's National Landcare Program Smart Farms Small Grants.
For more information about this project contact Lyn Dohle, PIRSA on 0419 846 204.
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