Gallagher Tools Guide Genetic Gain, Lifting Profits
"We began the process about 10 years ago,” Nina says, when they took over managing the family farm from Will’s parents — the fourth-generation, who are still involved in its day-to-day running.
Faced with ongoing low wool and meat prices in a harsh drought, the pair approached the business analytically to determine where profitability lay.
Wanting to improve their profitability, the Bennetts began looking more closely at ram selection and genetics. Will Bennett had been reluctant to drop their wool enterprise because it fitted well with the rest of their operation and farm’s Midland topography; but to justifying staying in wool, profitability needed to lift dramatically.
A farm adviser recommended using Yalgoo Merino Stud genetics (New England, NSW).
“We started using Yalgoo genetics about seven years ago; it was so successful that we set up a partnership with Yalgoo here, where we have 300 stud ewes.”
Nina says the impact on their commercial flock’s productivity and farm’s profitability has been pronounced.
Objective measurements needed
The Yalgoo stud is based on objective measurements, and so the Ashby Merino Stud also needed to be. This involves keeping very accurate data on all the measurements they were taking. For the first couple of years, the Bennetts manually collected and recorded data against ear tags, storing the information in an Excel database.
“Needless to say, it was very time consuming and prone to human error!” Nina says.
“Yalgoo were using a TSi from Gallagher and were very happy with it; there were a couple of other studs around here using a TSi and were also really happy with them. We looked around — at AgFest and other shows — and it seemed more comprehensive than the others out there. It didn’t just store data, it could also generate useful reports with the stored information. Also, having that local person [Tasmania and Western Australia State Manager Steve Sullings] to call on for the technical side made the choice easy.”
Objective measurement is very important; it underpins Ashby’s Merino stud operation, and is now used to a great degree in the commercial flock. Their stud sheep are indexed, and they benchmark the flock against others.
Indeed, they measure “absolutely everything”.
Individual sheep are ranked on their genetic potential, using Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) from MERINOSELECT.
“It’s since using the Yalgoo genetics and ASBVs that our micron has dropped,” Nina says. “In the commercial flock, the micron is 17 and we’re cutting about 5kg. In the stud, it’s 15 microns and 5kg, and the aim is 7kg at 15 micron. We know we can move towards figures like this because we measure everything and select on performance.”
The Bennetts have electronically tagged all their stud sheep. A mid-side sample is taken before shearing to test micron, yield, strength and so on. They record fleece weight and body weight at shearing.
Nina says, “At shearing, we zap the sheep with our HR3 hand-held reader, and this information is sent to our barcode printer via bluetooth. The printer prints out a barcode, which then moves with the fleece. When we weigh the fleece, I scan the barcode and this matches up with the sheep, and puts the fleece weight into the TSi against that sheep.”
All this information is then exported from the TSi and sent to MERINOSELECT, where it is analysed and returned. The indexes are then imported back to the TSi and are available at the zap of an ear tag.
Nina says the TSi, barcode scanner and printer are great for the stud, but they’ve also begun using them in their commercial flock.
“With our commercial hoggets, we also measure fleece weight, micron and body weight at shearing, and it’s automatically entered into the program as well.
“When we fleece weigh and take measurements, it gives us objective figures, so we’re not just culling on subjective traits. The impact has been really noticeable.”
Nina says the HR3 Hand-Held EID Tag Reader and TSi are very useful at classing.
“The figures come up instantly, so if sheep are below a certain index value, they get culled automatically. The ability to customise the screen to your needs and add notes is great, as is the pedigree screen — and we know there’s more we could do with it.
“It’s also great at our annual ram sale: the information’s all there, so when people come to look before the sale, they don’t have to keep looking back and forth at paper.”
Nina says they use the panel reader to great effect for mothering up.
“We used to mother up in the yards, which was very time consuming; now we set up the panel reader in a paddock, and the sheep walk past it, to get to water. We send the tag numbers from ewes and the lamb that follows her away to Pedigree Matchmaker. The results that come back tell us the accuracy of that lamb belonging to that mother. We have had excellent results, which is great.”
Nina says the ability to record objective measurements and see the genetic improvement in their flock are the major benefits of their Gallagher equipment.
“Being able to record accurately all the traits that go into ASBV’s and breed to these has led to the genetic improvement of our flock and a rise in productivity, and a positive impact on our bottom line.”