New England Merino Lifetime Productivity (MLP) online field day
The recent New England Field Day was converted from an in-person, on-site experience to an online event featuring the 2017 drop MLP ewes and 2018 drop. A launch webinar and website showcasing sire progeny inspection videos and results, along with a site seasonal overview and associated MLP and New England research updates, will now be available online for the life of the MLP project.
With limited site access resulting from COVID-19 restrictions, the online field day at www.merinosuperiorsires.com.au/newenglandfieldday was produced by the CSIRO team at Chiswick’s MLP site along with AWI, AMSEA and the New England Merino Sire Evaluation Association (NEMSEA). The launch webinar was hosted by SheepConnect NSW with attendees from across all Australian states.
The usual components of an MLP field day were presented in the webinar and are incorporated into the website. Interstate webinar and website attendees have been especially appreciative of the opportunity to access the event when usually distance would prevent them attending an on-site field day.
Of special interest on the website are the inspection videos of the MLP ewes who were filmed in their sire progeny groups with an introduction to the sire, a classer comment from Angus Carter and their current results. Footage from nearly every angle is available of the ewes.
Visitors to the website are also able to view the webinar recording, watch the videos, download the results report, and view CSIRO’s presentations on the related projects being undertaken at ‘Chiswick’. Wool photos have been added for each sire group displaying a sample of each sire group’s wool type.
The online resource will remain available for repeat industry visits as well as for educational opportunities.
Reproduction is being closely assessed in each year of the MLP project with all five sites collecting F1 ewe data about their reproductive functionality, joining and scanning results plus weaning information for their lambs. Ewes will be assessed annually to unravel reproduction results and trends right across their lifetime. 2020 has been a year of impressive reproduction data across all five MLP sites.
The annual lambing cycle has been completed for the MLP sites in 2020 with just the New England site yet to wean. The general return to favourable seasonal conditions has provided optimal conditions for joining of the MLP ewes followed by solid lambing results. A summary of preliminary reproduction results is provided in the table below.
These 2020 reproduction cycles bring the MLP project tally to 23 lambings completed of the planned total of 45. Reproduction traits are less heritable, and therefore more influenced by environmental conditions, so collecting high numbers of reproduction data points is necessary to tease out accurate genetic differences.
With 45 lambings planned there will be approximately 27,500 F2 lambs produced! These lambs will each have a DNA parentage test undertaken plus a weaning weight collected. Some sites are additionally collecting birthing records and visual breech scores; a significant commitment of resources by individual sites who will each have up to 5,000+ F2 lambs to lamb down, wean and collect data on.
All data collected to date has been submitted to the Sheep Genetics MERINOSELECT database and is one of the key datasets contributing to the reproduction genomic reference population. The Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit have subsequently been able to use the MERINOSELECT database to develop research breeding values for the component reproduction traits of Conception, Litter Size, Ewe Rearing Ability from the resulting Number of Lambs Weaned.
Data collected is also providing confirmation and insights into reproduction:
- Using raw data, sire performance can vary significantly from one year to the next
- There are sire and joining details that confirm certain sires within a joining syndicate are dominant each year.
As the MLP project proceeds, there are special interest topics value-adding to the project. These include a focus on ram mating success at both the Balmoral and Macquarie sites to look at whether close physical assessment of rams prior to joining, along with laboratory-based semen assessment correlates to better joining results. This additional information will complement the core reproduction results.
At project completion, with a full reproduction dataset, the MLP project will look at overall reproduction trends (below) with the view to answering further detailed questions about reproduction including...
What’s the ultimate culling strategy to improve reproduction and profit?
What impact does reproduction performance have on fleece, carcase and welfare traits?
How much does wrinkle and fleece weight impact the number of lambs that a ewe can wean?
Recording reproduction data in ram breeding flocks is time consuming and expensive, but what are the benefits?
What role do body composition traits such as condition score, fat and muscle play in lifetime reproduction across ewe and sire types?
Table 1. 2020 across-site MLP lambing update
1 The MLP project protocols denote a condition score of 3.2 at joining followed by 3.2 for single ewes and 3.3 for twin ewes at lambing. There are some site and year variabilities depending on age, supplementary feeding, and seasonal conditions.
2 Conception, Foetal Rate and Tagging Rate are based on the number of ewes at pregnancy scanning.
3 Tagging takes place approximately 10 days after the end of lambing.
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