Sheep scanning recognised as revolutionary tool

A revolutionary tool for reproductive management of sheep in New Zealand, which has contributed to the country’s improved meat production over the past two decades, has been recognised in the inaugural Sheep Industry Awards, alongside the top flocks and sires for genetic merit.

About 200 people attended an event in Invercargill earlier this month to celebrate sheep farming excellence and to witness the presentation of nine awards covering genetics, production and business innovation. Results of the genetics-related awards were calculated based on breeders’ performance in SIL-ACE (Advanced Central Evaluation) – the large-scale, across flock and breed genetic evaluation of more than 280 ram breeding flocks.

The Silver Fern Farms award for sheep industry innovation went to Rowan Farmer, who was responsible for introducing and promoting sheep pregnancy and eye-muscle scanning technology to New Zealand.

Farmer set up Stockscan in 1991. The primary aim was to scan sheep for eye muscle area, but Farmer’s experience with quarantined sheep at Invermay gave him an insight into the management benefits of pregnancy scanning. Since then, the practice has expanded to include the identification of twins and triplets. Scanning has revolutionised the reproductive management of sheep throughout New Zealand.

In addition, the country’s top performing breeders of meat yielding sheep were honoured. Joseph and Judy Barker’s terminal sire flock ‘The Burn’ Texel stud in Mid-Canterbury rated highest for genetic merit across the SIL-ACE evaluation, The dual purpose (ewe breed) flock rated highest for genetic merit was ‘MNCC’, Edward Dinger’s Coopworth stud in the Waikato. The same flock also won the Alliance High Performance Flock award.

B+LNZ geneticist Mark Young says the process of identifying the top-performing flocks involved analysing the top 25-50 percent of rams for each specified set of traits, before then adjusting the results to account for variatons in flock size.

“This exercise also identified highly-rated sires that were making a big impact in industry. The B+LNZ Super Sires are rated in the top 10 percent for genetic merit in indexes of merit across key traits. They are also rams which have been used a lot, so have the most progeny,” says Young.

The B+LNZ Ltd Award for an individual or business making a significant contribution to the New Zealand sheep industry went to Dr Jock Allison ONZM. Two of the highlights of his career, from the sheep industry viewpoint, have been his work with the Booroola Merino which led to the discovery of a major gene fecundity gene and for importing the East Friesian sheep to this country.

The idea to hold an awards ceremony was initiated by B+LNZ Farmer Council Member and ram breeder Russell Welsh. Welsh says the dairy industry’s track record of celebrating success promoted him to suggest the awards ceremony. “It highlights best practice and,by default, that lifts all farmers.

B+LNZ Ltd chairman Mike Petersen says it is great to see farmers driving an initiative which celebrates the sheep industry, while also highlight the immense value of SIL’s database to the sector.

Other award winners on the night were:

  • AgITO Business Farm Trainer of the Year –Smedley Station and Cadet Training Farm.
  • Dual Purpose plus Worm FEC Flock (Index: Reproduction + lamb Growth + Adult Size + Wool + Parasite Resistance) – Nithdale Romney flock, owned by A Tripp of Gore.
  • Dual Purpose plus Facial Eczema Flock (Index: Reproduction + lamb Growth + Adult Size + Wool + FE Tolerance) – ARDG Romney Flock, R & G Alexander of Tirau.
  • Beef + Lamb New Zealand Super Sires – in addition, top sires were also picked out in six categories: terminal; dual purpose*; dual purpose high performance*; dual purpose plus meat yield*; dual purpose plus worm FED; and dual purpose plus facial ezcema tolerance. A Coopworth Ram owned by Steve Wyn-Harris of Waipukerau won three of those spots (marked *), really making it the Super Sire.

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