PENDARRA POINT OF VIEW
Well, what a year it has been and most would agree, like one we have never witnessed previously and will be unlikely to see again in the near future. Whether it was the range of natural disasters that have seemingly been inflicted upon the globe, the mind-blowing transition from a record drought to one of the wettest years seen and the massive floods that eventuated or the unprecedented prices attained for lamb and mutton, it has been a year to remember for many varied reasons.
Agriculture has seen many periods where a few commodities have been profitable and others less so; with the recent rise in the fortunes of wool, rarely have we seen good returns across all areas of agriculture and history will tell us that only two things are certain in farming. One is that low prices will not last forever and two; high prices will not last forever. So we need to look at what is likely to happen within the sheep industry that will dictate where prices will move.
With trade lamb prices earlier this year peaking above $6/kg and mutton at record levels, few believed these levels were sustainable and reality is that if these levels were maintained for much longer, serious damage would have been inflicted on lamb processors . Not just because of the high price per kilo for lamb but the high $A was impacting seriously on contracts that were signed off when the $A was relatively lower. Those contracts are being renewed now and while the higher dollar will be factored into any negotiated prices, we must remember that it makes our product more expensive to overseas consumers and there is a limit to how much they will pay. The correction in lamb prices is one we had to have to maintain some balance in the industry. The mutton price is still relatively high for reasons not directly related to the supply/demand pressures on lamb.
The rebuilding of the Australian sheep industry is well underway with I suspect a much larger increase in ewe numbers than many have predicted. Many sheep producers have indicated an intention to further increase sheep numbers as they see a more predictable or lower risk with sheep over cropping. However, after just one season of good returns, there are still those who see cropping as the only way to continue and only time will tell how right they are. The lamb industry has been the saviour of many during the drought and those who stuck with them and fed/watered them through the drought have reaped the rewards of prices that were best described as “crazy “at one point. Over $100 for toothless ewes with busted udders would seem unbelievable for many old farmers who at some stage in their life would have sold a truck load of old ewes for less than $100 total.
The sheep industry is still the one agricultural enterprise that has a great future; we just need to keep our lamb processors viable and our markets, both domestic and overseas, receiving good value for money.
Australia is once again riding on the sheep's back
FINDING OUT WHAT IS IN THOSE GENES
Our newsletter reported last year on the work being carried out as part of the Sheep CRC research project. Most sheep producers would have heard of the Sheep CRC and many would have had an opportunity to attend one of the many workshops that have been delivered to most areas of Australia. If you have yet to attend one of these functions, you should make it a must over the next few months.
At Pendarra , we have been actively involved with this research project since its beginning and have consistently supplied genetics over the course of the research project that are analysed for a multitude of traits against genetics from all breeds. Over 160 direct traits are recorded across 8 sites with 100 young industry sires joined to around 5000 ewes each year. At Pendarra we have also provided around 80 reference sires for DNA testing as part of the initial Sheep Genomics program. The purpose of this program was to identify genes within the sheep population that were responsible for many of the favorable traits that would benefit the whole industry. These genes would then be able to be identified in young sires allowing for selection of traits that are otherwise not able to be measured. These traits currently include lean meat yield, tenderness and intra muscular fat. Traits such as meat nutritive value, meat colour and shelf life may also be linked to some genes.
Early last year, we were invited to submit DNA from a selection of our young sires as part of a pilot program to test for DNA markers associated with these otherwise unmeasurable traits. We received feedback based on DNA relating to not only the traits that we are able to accurately measure such as muscle growth and fat, but also traits such as lean meat, shear factor (tenderness) and intra muscular fat (IMF). It was the meat eating quality traits (tenderness and IMF) that were of great interest to us and all the sires we tested were significantly better than average for eating quality; more tender and having more IMF. These results are only an indication of what the genetics can produce and while they are in the early stages of research, indicate the level of research that will determine the future direction of the sheep industry in Australia.
We have since been invited to participate in the 2 nd phase of this pilot program which will involve DNA testing a young a group of lambs from this year's drop for a range of traits and these young sires will subsequently be used and analysed within our stud. It is expected that this form of DNA testing will be commercially available within the next few years therefore enabling studs to select for traits in young animals that are all but impossible to measure or cannot be obtained without many progeny and some involved testing and analysis. We are also currently one of 20 studs nationally involved in a R&D program that is analyzing the commercial effect this level of genetic selection will have on both the stud and commercial producer and the flow -on advantages that it will deliver to all who use these sires.
The sheep industry is currently at the cutting edge of technology and the benefits will quickly flow through to lamb producers – provided they use the right genetics…..
WHITE SUFFOLK BREED AGAIN PROACTIVE
It was announced at the 2011 annual White Suffolk conference that a genetic condition, Hypotrichosis, exists within the Australian sheep population. This genetic condition is not new and not restricted to just sheep as almost all livestock breeds can carry the gene. There are published papers detailing this condition in Poll Dorset sheep in the 1960's and is identified by the absence of hair on the sheep. This result in a sheep that grows just wool and the pink skin becomes leathery and obviously sun burnt.
This is a recessive gene and therefore both parents must carry the recessive gene for a lamb to be born without hair and those sheep that carry one copy of the gene appear, and grow, normal. As mentioned in the previous page, DNA testing is a great tool in identifying the good genes that a sheep may inherit, it is also good at identifying the not so good ones and the White Suffolk Association has been active in working with a laboratory that has identified this recessive gene and we are able to test all young sires for the prevalence of this gene. Fortunately we have identified the carriers of this gene within the White Suffolk breed and are making selections accordingly. Fortunately there have yet to be any recent reports of incidences within the maternal breeds in Australia so if you are breeding 1 st or 2 nd cross lambs using traditional breeds, this gene will have no impact, however if you are using a maternal dam that has some terminal genes in their makeup, you need to select sires with some consideration to this gene. The impact this gene will have on any sheep production system is minimal, almost insignificant, but lamb producers need to be aware if using composite dams developed from terminal genetics.
So where do we sit in relation to this finding? Like almost all WS studs across Australia, we have used a sire with this recessive gene and yet we have only seen 4 hairless lambs over the past 5-6 years; we had no idea what it was till recently. We have since tested all our young sires used this year and all are non carriers of the gene, as is all but one of our older sires. If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to ask us, especially if you are retaining White Suffolk cross ewes. If you have seen any of these lambs, we would be interested to hear from you.
We will be perfectly open and honest in relation to the status of our flock.
WHY WE USE ASBV's……..
AUSTRALIAN SHEEP BREEDING VALUES
I see it all the time, not just in our sheep yards but at many of the top ram sales where the best judges of sheep in the industry cannot make a decision between different sheep as to which they prefer. And it is not surprising, especially if the sheep are from different studs and have had vastly different feeding regimes and environmental constraints, not to mention the maternal effect.
The first decision we made after founding our stud was to employ some form of unbiased performance recording mechanism that would allow us to benchmark one individual against another for the traits that are commercially important; Growth Fat, Muscle. Just like a good looking specimen of the opposite sex, it is the physical appearance that initially attracts your attention and it is no different with sheep. What may look appealing initially can actually be a commercial dud! and many “good looking” young sires have turned out to be commercially useless. That is why we use ASBV's (Lambplan) to assist us with selection of, not only the sires we retain, but our replacement ewes. This is not the only selection tool we use but there has to be a very good reason why a poor performer on paper gets a chance within our stud.
ASBV's are estimated breeding values based on actual measurements taken on individuals with consideration given to the background genetics of the pedigree of that individual. Allowances are made for whether they are born as a single or multiple, the age of the dam and the environment in which they are run to name just a few. They are then put into a national database where they are compared to all other animals within the terminal sire database. This allows a good, unbiased comparison to be made between animals based on more than just a one off measurement or the appearance of that animal.
So what does this mean for both stud producers and just as significantly, commercial lamb producers? In simple terms, it allows breeders to tailor make their lambs to their exact requirements.
Let's concentrate on what it means for lamb producers. Given that you have determined what market you are targeting and how you are going to manage your flock, you now have the capability to select rams that will match your set of conditions so that the lambs you produce will be more even, reach market specifications and finish exactly as you had planned. If you are not using rams that have been benchmarked in this manner you risk having lambs that are uneven in maturity, will not finish as expected and will in the end make management more difficult. Quite simply using Lambplan tested rams takes the guesswork out of ram selection.
So what are our breeding objectives at Pendarra that will assist you in your operation? Our key objective is do-abilty; if lambs do not perform in the paddock, they don't make it past the first cull. Fortunately our strict policy in this area has lead to benefits in many other areas. We collect as a minimum - birth weights, birth types, weaning weights, post weaning weights, fat scan depth and muscle depth on all lambs and enter them into the data base for analysis. We then place selection pressure on areas such as lower birth weights for easier lambing, high early growth for faster finishing, moderate fat levels for better do ability/healthier lambs and higher muscling for better feed conversion and heavier meatier lambs. By using these selection pressures with reliance on ASBV's, we have been able to develop a genetic package that results in lambs that have minimum management issues and are fast finishing high yielding lambs. The recent DNA testing has provided additional benefits resulting from our selection procedures. Each year, all our potential sires are placed into a computer program and matched to our total ewe base to produce a drop of lambs that exactly fit the criteria we want to service our clients' needs. Sounds easy, it is a lot easier with the use of accurate ASBV's.
So what does it mean for our clients? Basically, within limits, all our rams are bred to the objectives outlined above so theoretically will all produce the same type of lamb.
All the hard work is done!
WHAT'S HAPPENING AT PENDARRA
There is always something happening here!
We increased our joined ewe numbers this year and joined over 1000 stud ewes to cater for an increase in demand for rams. We made a selection of young ram lambs and joined a majority of our ewe lambs to these young sires with around 75% scanned in lamb. We delayed our mature age ewe joining by a month this year to lamb in mid June and it has resulted in a tighter lambing period with higher lambing percentages. To date we have had in excess of 40 sets of triplets dropped, most managing to survive with the good conditions with regard to feed. Our joining program this year included a number of very interesting AI sires with outstanding commercial traits in the areas we concentrate on. These progeny will provide some interesting options for next year's joining.
As mentioned earlier in this newsletter, we have been invited to participate in a number of areas relating to the Sheep CRC Research program. This research program is due to finish over the next few years but some aspects of the findings will have to be maintained and we will continue to be a willing participant in whatever form the future of the Sheep CRC takes. The future in relation to DNA testing for commercial traits has already had a large impact in other livestock enterprises, especially dairy cattle, and the same seems assured for the sheep industry.
It has been pleasing talking to many of our clients over the past 12 months or have them contact us letting us know the results of their lamb sales or just what they are achieving within their sheep enterprise. Producers using our rams have had some great results over many years and the last 12 months has been no exception. We appreciate your contact and it is feedback such as the information you provide that allows us to fine tune our breeding objectives. We have been assisting a number of producers in developing a maternal line of either White Suffolk 1 st cross ewes or a line of composite ewes using the White Dorper composite breed we have been developing for over 12 years.
The same principles with regard to performance benchmarking have been used to develop our White Dorper composites and they are achieving some outstanding results across all areas and production systems. If you would like to know more about these sheep, please ask us.
It is satisfying to see our genetics performing commercially across many varied regions, from the middle of Queensland right down to the southern most regions of Victoria. Witnessing our genetics perform at the commercial level gives us the most enjoyment to see the top price lambs at saleyards being sired by Pendarra rams or a call from a producer detailing their kill sheet results is the feedback that we look forward to. Well done to all who have achieved outstanding returns from their lambs over the past 12 months.
We once again attended the Riverina field days in May and it was great to catch up with clients and meet producers who were excited about the long term prospects of the sheep industry. We will be doing the rounds of local shows again this year so please call in and have a chat.
A lot of rams were purchased by sheep producers in the early months of 2011and with tight conditions in some areas across NSW delaying lamb turnoff, prepare for a lot of lambs entering the market later this year which will impact on prices at the saleyards. Look for good OTH contracts and keep on doing the job right.
Murray & Di Long