Genetic selection could solve the mulesing mystery and lead to super sheep

Genetic selection could solve the mulesing mystery and lead to super sheep

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A strong focus on genetics is not only helping Bella Lana breed more productive merinos but it is also reducing the need for mulesing.

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Story sponsored by Bella Lana.

With animal rights groups convincing more and more high end fashion houses to boycott super fine merino wool which comes from mulesed sheep, it is becoming increasingly clear that the industry needs to find a solution.

However, after well over a decade and tens of millions of dollars in research into alternatives, it seems the answer lies in genetic selection. 

Thanks to their breeding program, Bella Lana Merino Stud produce non-mulesing sheep with minimal wrinkle around the breech. They also require less chemical protection for fly-strike. 

The Dripstone based stud, 16km south of Wellington in NSW, is fully embracing the latest technology  around genomics to achieve better results for their clients.

Bella Lana are currently entering the second year of a five year research and breeding program which aims to increase the quality of their animals across the board. 

While reducing wrinkle and increasing the wool clip is a top priority for the stud, they're also looking to increase meat without sacrificing wool quality. 

Owners Scott and Anna Brien aim to breed sheep that will produce 4.5kg of 18.5 micron wool every 6 months with a length of 70mm.

They also want a weaning rate of 130pc of lambs and sale of lambs into the trade at 6-9 months at 18-20 kg dressed weight. 

All rams used are poll rams, so with 15K Genomic Testing, they will be able to guarantee pure poll merinos. 

Additionally, they must be plain bodied to reduce flystrike and minimise the use of chemicals and be able to perform in pastures with minimal to no supplementary feeding.

They currently average 120pc lambing, with their average flock micron being 18.7 and of wool cut to 7.5kg a head. 

However, thanks to the co-sponsorship of Meat and Livestock Australia donors, the stud has been able to employ the expertise of top sheep consultant Sally Martin, who says in just 12 short months, they've already achieved some fantastic results.

They've employed DNA parent testing on the property and pregnancy scans into their operation, while continuing to closely monitor data around specific traits.

Not only are they already seeing some genetic gains, they've managed to stream line the process and more accurately and effectively marshal their resources.

"The other exciting thing that we're utililising on all of the male progeny - so all of the ram lambs - is 15K Genomic Testing. So we can use that to do the full parentage on those rams too," Mrs Martin explained.

The DNA parent testing and pregnancy scanning also gives them the opportunity to more accurately determine their percentages at weening, she explained, and the fact they don't have to mother up means they can use that time more productively.

Good genetics has always been a primary area of focus for the stud. Bella Lana was founded in 2006 on Wallaloo Park bloodline and has used the genetics since 1995.

However, it's their attention to detail in the selection process that has seen them breed sheep that not only increase their clients' profits but also save on the input, allowing them to work smarter and not harder. 

One producer that is singing the stud's praises is Tom Roberts, who runs a shared commercial operation with John Bestwick from his Euarra property, in O'Connell, just outside of Bathurst. 

This year, Mr Roberts will be joining 3000 ewes and roughly half are going to Bella Lana rams. He's currently on his second cross but says the results already are "chalk and cheese".

The animals much bigger and the staple length of the wool has increased. He will soon be increasing to a nine month shearing schedule.

"We've got more traditional Merino sheep... but we're looking to move towards a more modern animal," Mr Roberts explained. 

"We're also hoping to eventually get rid of mulesing altogether and get down to a six month shearing program. So, (a couple of years ago) we underwent a process of trying to change blood lines," he continued.

"We researched a lot of different studs and we decided to go with Bella Lana. They had what we were looking for. They had a bigger carcass. We wanted more size but we didn't want to sacrifice what we already had in wool...

"Since then, Scott and Anna have really helped us along that path... towards what we're trying to achieve. Their advice and shared experience have just been really helpful."

Similarly satisfied is fellow Dripstone producer Dugald Campbell, who has also seen good outcomes as a result of incorporating Bella Lana's bloodlines.

He has been working closely with the stud for more than a decade. Thanks to their genetics, he is able to produce a highly productive, well balanced flock.

Mr Campbell actually lives on the next property over from Bella Lana and was originally on the same blood line. However, when he looked over the fence and saw the results of his neighbours' breeding program was achieving, he decided to make the switch.

"They produce a really good clip. They've got beautiful wool and that's what really attracted me to them in the first place," he said.

"We're getting a lot more wool, a lot earlier on, (we shear) every eight months, and we're getting a very good frame on our young ewes." 

Mr Campbell has also managed to eliminate mulesing on his property altogether and says you'd be hard pressed to find a stud with more integrity or stud owners with better customer service.

For more information on Bella Lana's breeding program visit their website: www.bellalana.com.au/

Story sponsored by Bella Lana.

The story Genetic selection could solve the mulesing mystery and lead to super sheep first appeared on The Land.

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