Sheep breeders got a glimpse into the near future at Sheep Genetics’ annual Leading Breeder Conference – and the grass looks pretty green.
Here are five things sheep breeders, seedstock producers (and, arguably, sheep) can look forward to in coming years:
1. New breeding values
Dr Janelle Hocking Edwards of the South Australia Research & Development Institute (SARDI), who’s been selectively breeding for eating quality and lean meat yield (LMY) at 20 Producer Demonstration Sites, found a significant negative association between eating quality and LMY. Putting pressure on selection for increasing LMY, she told conference delegates, results in decreased eating quality - an important trait for ensuring continuing consumer demand for the end product. Ram breeders and lamb producers will be happy to note that new breeding values for eating-quality traits should soon enable them to control this key set of traits.
2. Tougher ewes
At the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit at University of New England (UNE), researchers have been selecting for ewes that can continue to produce under tough conditions, based on numbers of lambs weaned (NBW). Given Australia’s highly variable climate, suggested UNE researcher Sam Walkom-Brown, producers should consider developing ‘robust’ flocks of ewes to boost productivity. The good news? Seedstock for hardier ewes should hit the market in the near future.
3. Precision mating
The tedious, time-consuming process of working out sheep mating regimes ‘on paper’ will soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new precision joining tool, MateSel, developed by UNE’s Brian Kinghorn and launched by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in late March 2015.
The new tool, part of the BREEDPLAN suite, crunches a flock's data and creates a suggested mating list based on the given group of candidate sires and dams. Armed with a 'precision mating list', farmers will be able to optimise mating allocations objectively to reflect their breeding goals, manage inbreeding and create long-term, sustainable genetic gains.
The tool will also help producers breed for better taste - essential, says Sheep Genetics Manager Hamish Chandler, if they're to satisfy increasingly discerning high-end consumers.
“Now is the time for our leading breeders to start including eating quality traits into their breeding programs to maintain the consumer's opinion of lamb over coming years,” contended Chandler at the conference.
“Processors want to start using technology to measure eating quality as soon as possible, and we now have the tools available to select animals for improved eating quality traits.”
MateSel will be available after a series of training workshops in May.
4. Better tools for measuring eating quality
The next generation of meat standards (MSA) for sheepmeat will combine yield and eating quality, said Dr Graham Gardner of Murdoch University's School of Veterinary and Life Sciences. And producers will have help in meeting the new MSA thanks to new hyperspectral imaging technology from Danish researchers that promises to enable eating-quality measurements to be collected from carcases, principally via intramuscular fat (IMF).
5. Higher prices for premium seedstock
Breeders and producers of high-quality seedstock, get set to profit. Producers should be planning now for the time when price signals around eating quality begin to flow along the value chain, urged David Rutley, Lamb Supply Chain Coordinator at processor Thomas Foods International.