What drives genetic gain


In a discussion with perhaps the leading merino breeder in Australia recently he was asked what he put their rise in the rate of genetic gain down to.


He quoted six major points:


  1. Choose to go faster – mindset
  2. Doing my own matesel (mate allocation)
  3. DNA tests – 25% 6mth old rams
  4. No age based culling of ewes
  5. Competition – the whole industry going faster
  6. Far better AI choices for poll merinos

I think the above is pretty much summed up in the first point. It is a mindset, and every ram breeder can choose to “go faster” or make more genetic gain.


Fundamentally it comes down to belief in the system – that you can actually measure traits and record pedigrees, and then use this information to build a picture about which animals have the genes to be more productive.


Once you have that belief – and we have had it for a long time now, it then comes down to how much effort you put into making progress. This means how much effort you put into collecting accurate data to make the decisions on. Inaccurate data means less repeatable asbvs, and if they’re not repeatable for every two steps forward you make you then also take a couple backwards.


It also means collecting the data quickly enough to make decisions (dna helps here with merinos). We have all the data in and asbvs back before we select the ram lambs we use.


Then it comes down to effort in the breeding program – do you do AI and ET, use mate allocation software, use the best as much as possible, and how good you are at not being seduced by the figures over any structural issues.


Part of our success is from using ram lambs (reducing the generation interval and using the best as quickly as possible) and from having successful AI programs (bring in new genes).


This year our poll dorsets AI program produced 121% marked lambs to ewes AI’d, while the white suffolk gave easily our best ever result of 149%.


As for successfully using ram lambs – 58% of our live poll dorset lambs from our main lambing are by 2017 drop ram lambs, and 70% of our white Suffolk lambs.  In my opinion our best pd ram 170168 – we used his fresh semen in et program, paddock mated for winter and spring lambing and backed up ai ewes, has 93 live lambs on the ground already.