Sheep Breeding with Technology

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Australia is spearheading a revolutionary technology where they can team the best male with the best female to create a perfect match and all this for sheep breeding. All this technological evolution is happening in the shearing shed of West Australian farmer Dave Vandenberghe as he is enhancing his sheep flock using the most modern technology. This is the first year Vandenberghe has utilized the program MateSel, which was incorporated by the University of New England and managed via Sheep Genetics Australia.

MateSel, a computer program has been enabled with metrics that can select the best male sheep for each female sheep, once the user has given the desired traits they want to see in their newborn lambs. Sheep Genetics Australia has incorporated the program which was being utilized by a large number of livestock as well as aquaculture species around the world, with nearly 100 registered sheep users in Australia and growing with each passing year. Vandenberghe has reportedly told that the program has of late been so hugely popular amongst merino breeders in WA, but given the latest rise in both sheep and wool prices, however, he expects that to change as farmers re-invest in the industry.

As the breeding programs get more complex, it is becoming harder to keep track of the family groups and also understanding that gain that one wants without getting confused by the amount of data. Vandenberghe has invested in sheep technology in recent years heavily, and it is to be noted that each of his 1,600 stud ewes has been DNA tested to find out who the parents are. This assists in preventing inbreeding when matching ewes as well as rams in the future. Each and every sheep has full Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) which show traits such as wool cut, birth weight and eye muscle depth, which can all be selectively bred for. These tests and the use of electronic drafting machines, computer software, electronic ear tags, and data analysis means it costs Vandenberghe about $25 per sheep to enhance his flock’s genetics in this way.

The way ahead is in the analysis of genetics and selective breeding for stud sheep producers, according to Vandenberghe. He calls the procedure as corrective mating or getting the best out of the genetics. For instance, if one has a low micron animal that needs a bit more body weight, the farmer could then target the right ram to go over that ewe. He says while purists will match individual rams with individual ewes, his mixed farming enterprise means he needs to modify the task.