AGBU Working with Sheep Farmers

Dr Daniel Brown, Dr Andrew Swan

AGBU has been working in research and development (R&D) on the genetic improvement of sheep for over 20 years which has  had a profound impact on the Australian sheep industry. In this time, many of the major developments in sheep breeding have come out of AGBU. Critical to this success is the relationship that AGBU scientists have with farmers. The R&D work is a continual process of working with farmers and building relationships so that now farmers can see if they use the technologies that AGBU provides, they will have more profitable enterprises.

With sheep we have been able to work with relatively rapid breeding cycles. We have been able, for example, to turn the story around on eating-quality breeding values WHICH has had an enormous impact in Australia, including adding around $7-8 billion to the national GDP.

AGBU scientists work closely with and seek feedback from farmers like Troy and Nette Fischer, of Ashmore White Suffolks, Wasleys SA. The Fischer's seedstock operation markets 500+ rams annually. The Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) generated by AGBU are a core part of the value proposition for their ram clients with a strong relationship between genetic merit and price.

When reflecting on progress made over time, Troy said, "The development and subsequent evolution of LAMBPLAN over time has been a shining light for the sheep industry and has really had a positive contribution to the success story that lamb has been over the past few decades".

This most current innovation uses DNA information to identify the animals that will provide the greatest breeding value for identified traits.  Daniel Brown and Andrew Swan identify how "through AGBU innovations to programs we have been able to develop a very rapid single step evaluation so the turn-around time from research to commercial impact is very short.

The cycle of the R&D exercise involves the collection of data, which is generally undertaken by breeders. Each of the breeders record data, and how this is done on the farm differs across all of them, so AGBU scientists work closely with each user to enable this data collection process. They then work to deliver analysis back to the farmers for implementation into flock changes, and review the results which are being seen fairly quickly.

"AGBU are constantly looking to improve the analysis, shorten run times and continually improve the way genetic information is reported to industry. LAMBPLAN really is a world class genetic evaluation service which the industry is proud of and other countries are envious of." Troy cites the speed of turnaround as another key metric of success, "Having a new analysis done every two weeks enables rapid turnaround of data into ASBVs which is fantastic for making the best decisions using the most up to date information."

This has underpinned the rich feedback loop that AGBU are able to work with.  There is collaboration on the whole pipeline to optimise eventual impact.  Daniel Brown says, "We can't stress enough how important the listening part of the process is: that is, farmers talking to us about what issues are most significant for them, how they identify issues for the future, and what new traits they are interested in.  It is these conversations that drive the development and integration of new technologies into the evaluation process."

It is this close relationship and involvement in the whole level of R&D adoption that leads to end-users valuing the process better, and becoming even more passionate about what they are involved in. Essentially the prime lamb flocks of today are producing lambs that grow faster, are healthier, have more meat in the expensive cuts, appropriate fat levels and improved eating quality thanks to the joint work of AGBU and breeders like Troy and Nette Fischer.