Horizon Farming’s Maraetotara block could be the United Nations of New Zealand sheep farming. Lambs born on the Hawke’s Bay property this spring have sires from 11 different breeds. Horizon Farming has teamed up with Progressive Meats and B+LNZ Genetics to compare the performance of various terminal rams’ offspring under commercial farming conditions.
B+LNZ Genetics is shifting the Central Progeny Test’s focus to ‘next generation’ sires, by testing progeny of up-and-coming rams selected on potential genetic merit, rather than relying on older sires with existing progeny.
The performance of each is being tracked by DNA and electronic identification (EID) for production and, ultimately, eating quality.
Targeting more valuable animals
The resulting data will help increase the rate of genetic gain, allowing Progressive Meats to target more valuable animals with its farmer clients, help farmers choose the best terminal rams for their management system and provide breeders with direct feedback on their rams’ performance.
Horizon Farming’s Managing Director Stuart Ellingham says the joint venture reflects the shared values and philosophy of Horizon Farming, Progressive Meats and B+LNZ Genetics.
“None of us expect to get a different result by doing things the same way. The CPT is our chance to work together to show leadership,” Ellingham says.
“At the end of the day we’re not going to compete with chicken or pork (for productivity) – we need to have a focus on eating quality.
“This is a breakthrough, market-led approach. The real gravy will come when they have been processed and we have objective measurements and data.”
The lambs are being monitored for growth rate, before being processed and measured for eating quality and yield through Progressive Meats’ grading system, including CT and, shortly, hyperspectral scanning technology. The results will feed into into the SIL genetic evaluation model.
The terminal sires are Charallois, Il Defrance, White Dorper, Sufftex, Poll Dorset, Texel, South Down, Kelso Terminal, Focus Prime, Dorset Down, ANZCO composites and sires that will provide links back to other CPT sites. The rams have been put across Maraetotara’s 1600 ewes.
Maraetotara: ideal for study
The 400ha Maraetotara property is one of Horizon’s six Hawke’s Bay properties and is deemed ideal for this study. It is a terminal-only operation with the right number of ewes, good subdivision and infrastructure.
In addition to the 42 sires brought to the farm from terminal ram breeders around the country, 279 ewes were artificially inseminated to broaden the genetic linkages.
Ross Strong and Hayden Rees-Jones from Horizon Farming have been managing the on-farm operation.
“When we were first approached we could see that getting that performance information could be a game changer,” Rees-Jones says.
“It’s not all about yield anymore – we need to extend our thinking and that is what this is all about.
“It’s actually run really smoothly so far, and I think that’s because everyone has realised how important this is. We all want to make it happen.”
One of the unexpected benefits has been the level of interest and engagement from the entire on-farm team.
“Aimee (geneticist Aimee Charteris) has had time for every individual person on site and everyone is getting a taste for it. They can’t wait to learn more.”
Sheep Progeny Test changes
Since 2002, the Sheep Central Progeny Test (CPT) has benchmarked New Zealand stud sheep flocks, delivering ram comparisons for meat production and maternal performance in relevant farm environments.
A review of the CPT in 2014 highlighted opportunities to help breeders and commercial farmers more easily identify genetics that would perform best in their environment, particularly hill country; increase the number and diversity of locations in which testing occurs; increase the number of rams tested; and increase the connectedness of ram breeding flocks across the country to increase genetic gain.
B+LNZ Genetics General Manager Graham Alder says the developments in the Sheep CPT have been inspired by the positive experience of having commercial farms in the B+LNZ Genetics Beef Progeny Testing programme.
“Progeny testing can be improved and the speed of genetic gain increased by upping the numbers of rams tested on real-life commercial farming sites. This is an important part of our strategy for lifting the rate of genetic gain across the industry.”
Alder says technology is making an enormous difference.
“Even five years ago, extending central progeny testing to a commercial environment would have been a major challenge technology-wise. Developments in measuring and recording technology – by companies like Tru-Test and Gallagher, along with DNA parentage from Zoetis – allow us to run the programme in commercial flocks.”
The CPT is designed to provide vital genetic connections that broaden B+LNZ Genetics’ New Zealand Genetic Evaluation – the world's largest across-flock, across-breed evaluation.
Traditionally, about 22 new rams were tested each year – 311 rams in total over 14 years, with lists published annually of the top 25 rams for each of several meat (terminal) and dual-purpose (maternal) production traits. Once fully implemented, the new CPT programme will increase the number of rams tested each year four-to-five fold.
Genetic merit is established by comparing how different rams’ offspring perform when lambs are run in identical circumstances.
It is likely the test will be expanded to include use of commercial carcase value from other meat companies.
*Thanks for FMG for insuring the rams at no cost. www.fmg.co.nz