GAIN VALUE: SA Merino sire evaluation chairman Roger Fiebig, site host Joe Keynes, Keyneton Station, and interim coordinator Stephen Lee are hoping ram breeders will nominate their best young sires.

Top sires sought for newtrial

RAM breeders are encouraged to nominate high-performing young sires for the first season of the SA Merino Sire Evaluation.

The SA Sheep Industry Blueprint Group, with support from Merino SA, is aiming to identify superior sires by benchmarking wool, production and carcase traits of their progeny. 

The site is being hosted by the Keynes families at Keyneton Station in the Barossa. They have provided 1000 2.5-year-old commercial ewes for the trial.

Each of the 14 sires and two link sires from interstate trials will be joined to 60 ewes in a major artificial insemination program in January.

Interim coordinator Stephen Lee says it is a key project for the Blueprint, which aims to lift the value and production of the SA sheep flock by 20 per cent by 2020.

“We identified the importance of making genetic gain in rams feeding into wool and meat value chains,” he said. “There are other sites in Australia but they don’t relate to our production enterprises and Mediterranean environment, so we decided we needed our own. The site is lower rainfall than sites interstate.”

Dr Lee says the first intake is open to sires Australia-wide but expects SA rams to be well represented with the site having a strong dual-purpose breeding objective.

“We are looking to sample a wide range of Merino genetics, but are ideally looking for rams capable of producing progeny with a 18 to 21-micron fleece, cutting at least 4 kilograms of wool from eight months growth and turning off wethers with a 22-25kg carcase,” he said.

Young, poll rams are also preferred. “Rather than proven sires, we encourage ram breeders to enter a promising son being the next generation of genetics.”

Both rams recorded and not recorded on Sheep Genetics database can be nominated. “The benefit of the sire evaluation is we can show Australian Sheep Breeding Values at work, but we are also sampling the genetics not described with ASBVs and expect to find some excellent genetics in these too,” Dr Lee said.

Successful applicants are required to donate 62 doses of semen and pay a fee of $2750 per sire. Nominations close on October 31.

SA has an outstanding reputation for breeding some of the nation’s best Merinos and sire evaluation site host Joe Keynes says the commercial trial is a chance to prove it.

He says valuable feedback from a sire entered in the NSW New England trial several years ago and their own on-farm genetic benchmarking was behind them offering their ewes.

“It will be good for SA’s industry, which prides itself on high-growth sheep with wool and meat so it is a chance to trial these genetics in SA conditions,” Mr Keynes said.

“For us it will be beneficial to benchmark our own flock and get a better handle on where to source our genetics going forward.”

All ewes will be electronic tagged and he is excited about using the evaluation to enhance emerging technologies such as objective carcase and eating quality measurements and Australian Sheep Breeding Values.

“People are starting to get a feel for ASBVs so this is a chance to show a wider group of producers and validate it is the way of the future,” Mr Keynes said.

Site coordinator Stephen Lee says they hope to take the wether progeny through to 11 months of age before selling them over-the-hooks and collecting carcase data. The ewe lambs will be grown out, shorn twice before being mated at 18 months of age. 

Dr Lee hopes another factor setting the SA evaluation apart from the other Merino sire evaluation sites will be calculating a profit ranking for each sire.

“Merino SA has been very supportive of the concept and the support from local ram breeders, commercial breeders and businesses will be critical to its success,” he said.