A cohort of 15 leading young Merino sires have been put to the test in the latest SA Merino Sire Evaluation Trial.
On Friday last week more than 100 interested stud and commercial producers took the chance to inspect the progeny of these sires at host property, Mentara Park, Malinong, owned by the Eckert family.
It is one of 10 sites across Australia involved in the Australian Merino Sire Evaluation Association trials which benchmark sires for wool, growth and carcase traits.
SA trial chairman Roger Fiebig said the local trial- now in its sixth year- was important in the genetic improvement of Merinos in SA.
"As you can see from the big crowd here today it is popular," he said.
"People can see the difference between the sheep and also the consistency within the pens," he said.
Mentara Park runs 3500 Merino ewes with about 2600 of these part of a self-replacing flock. The remainder are mated to Border Leicesters to produce first cross ewes.
Mentara Park's David Eckert said their Merino flock had not been aligned to any particular stud but their ewes were 18-19 micron.
"Our aim is for a long stapled, highly aligned, deep crimping wool with good lustre over a soft skin, producing an easy care, fertile ewe," he said.
He said they had classed off the tops and bottoms of their three and four year old ewes to get as even line as possible for the AI program, joining 57 ewes to each sire.
The conception rate from the AI program had been a disappointing 45 per cent but Mr Eckert said a healthy number of twins had ensured 572 progeny in total.
These progeny which were born in May 2021 had been carcase scanned and measured for a range of traits.
The progeny will be shorn this week with the wether portion then sold. The final measurements on the ewes, including mid side sampling, will occur in early 2023.
Mr Eckert said it had been great to work with the stud breeders and thanked each of them for putting their sires forward.
"You soon realise how passionate the studmasters really are in breeding that perfect Merino," he said.
"It is not an easy task, I look at the cattle industry and you really only have to get the carcase right whereas with the sheep you have to do both, the wool and the carcase."
Several rams performed well for multiple traits but O'Brien Poll 190455 was a trait leader for six traits, all three growth traits as well as eye muscle depth, staple strength and coefficient of variation of fibre diameter.
O'Brien stud principal Darren O'Brien, Kyancutta, said putting one of their reserve rams in the trial was a chance to benchmark their genetics and also see how they perform in a different environment.
"He was a twin and out of a Southrose ewe with excellent growth so that's why we wanted to see how he would stack up," he said.
"Once you have a base here you have something to compare your own sheep to, otherwise you are flying blind."
Another Eyre Peninsula stud, Nantoura Poll, nominated a sire for the first time- a ram which it sold to Ramsgate stud at the 2020 Classings Classic sale.
Stud principal Chris Prime was pleased Nantoura Poll 190061 had come up a trait leader in several flock breeding values, including staple length, eye muscle and fat.
"You back your sheep in to compete against all the others but you also find out your weaknesses against other studs," he said.
Nantoura Poll 190061 had the most progeny in the trial, 53 head and was a trait leader for the sheep retained in visual classing undertaken by Classings Limited's Bill Walker.
"You get frustrated when you pay good money for rams and you end up culling 50 per cent or 40pc, you want to be able to keep more and more," Mr Prime said.
One of the link sires, Forest Springs Poll 190193 along with Kelvale Poll 191148 had the highest number of progeny classed into the tops for the visual classing- both 25pc higher than the average of the trial.
Mentara Park is also hosting the 2022 trial with the progeny from 17 sires on the ground from the latest AI program.
Mr Fiebig said they were looking for another SA commercial Merino breeder, with a 19 micron or finer ewe flock, to host the 2023 trial.
"At this stage we could even do just one year and get the ewe numbers down, perhaps only 500 ewes going with eight rams and two link sires," he said.
For more details head to www.merinosuperiorsires.com.au
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