Do ASBVs work?

AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation’s decision not to fund the second phase of the Sheep CRC’s Information Nucleus Flock has reignited breeder concern over the effectiveness of sheep breeding values.

Some sheep producers are claiming Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) are not working and a simpler, farmer-driven system is needed. They argue that selection decisions using ASBVs for certain traits are not repeatable within their flocks and question the value of indexes that have an accuracies of only 30 per cent or less.

In the past few years, some have stopped using ASBVs in favour of assessing the raw data themselves and many have supported the questions AWI asked on how much value the INF2 flock was delivering to the industry.

But Sheep Genetics has defended the programs, saying they are farmer-driven because of the volume of information provided in testing and the high numbers of producers using the system with good results.

New South Wales stud breeder Graham Gilmore, Tattykeel, Oberon, stopped using ASBVs in his Poll Dorset and White Dorper studs because he did not believe the figures were related to animals being produced.

He uses raw data – measurements generated through Stock Scan – and pedigree information to determine how best to breed sheep.

Mr Gilmore said ASBVs were dividing the industry and that MLA would be better off having closer links to abattoirs to find out where the best animals were coming from and then following them back to on-farm.

He said independent trials were needed, not those that were linked to government agricultural agencies, to ensure individual studs were not promoted, or only those involved in Lambplan or MerinoSelect.

“Some people believe it’s fantastic and working well but just because you are not in the system doesn’t mean what we you are doing isn’t working just as well,” he said.

“We’re all funding it, the people that haven’t gone into it are funding the ones that have gone into it to promote them against us and it’s just divided the industry, it should be pulling us together.”

Jindalee Texel breeder Andy Roberts, Cootamundra, NSW, said claims by breeding value proponents that average slaughter weights had increased because of ASBVs were not true, but rather because farmers were holding onto their lambs for longer, getting them from 16kg to 22-23kg and higher.

He said academics involved with ASBVs and genomic programs were “picking winners” in use of individual studs and they should be fairer. He would like to see more industry consultation by the Sheep CRC and MLA.

“I don’t believe the ASBVs are breeding the type of sheep and the prime lamb sires that the lamb industry wants,” he said.

“I think AWI is doing the whole industry a service in asking the questions (on INF2), it’s up to the Sheep CRC whether they will answer the questions or ignore them.”

While there is a definite undercurrent of dissatisfaction in the industry with the performance of ASBVs, Meat & Livestock Australia’s Rob Banks said Australia was lucky to have practical breeders engaged with hands-on scientists, which was the envy of other countries.

“Its missing the point to say LambPlan and MerinoSelect are not farmer-driven, they are completely dependent on farmers for information and consistent checking that the system is delivering the information it says it is,” Dr Banks said.

SheepGenetics manager Sam Gill said LambPlan and MerinoSelect were ongoing projects which evolved with breeders’ feedback and was open to discussion.

But he believed ASBVs were working. This would be proved by a review and collation of results from nearly 50 trials around Australia, such as producer demonstration sites, selection demonstration flocks and breeding program trials, to be complete next month.

“If we have a large number of independent trials and use information generated on-farm and the independent trial lines up with the on-farm information then it says what we are doing is repeated. We are finding it lines up more often than it doesn’t, nine times out of 10,” he said.

Mr Gill said the organisation’s common message was to use a balance between visual assessment and productivity traits that ASBVs describe to ensure the sire was fit-for-purpose in producing progeny that would impact the bottom line.

WA Texel breeder Maria Wood, Te Rakau, Bindi Bindi, will move to the New Zealand Sheep Improvement Ltd system because it focused on individual flock performance and improvement, rather than heavy emphasis on across-flock analysis.

She said the current Australian system lacked support from processors and commercial partners.

She supported AWI’s decision in not funding the INF2 and hoped the organisation’s reasoning would be taken seriously.

But Katanning, WA, farmer David Thompson said were simple steps sheep breeders should be using to improve genetics of the national flock, and ASBVs would help discover superior animals.

He said AWI had been missing in action when it came to promoting ASBVs and MerinoSelect.

Sheep breeders have expressed fresh concern over the effectiveness of breeding values.

Sheep breeders have expressed fresh concern over the effectiveness of breeding values.