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Creating a perfect match

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Using a computer to team the best male with the best female to create a perfect match conjures up thoughts of an iconic Australian TV game show from the 1980s. But this is actually happening in the shearing shed of West Australian farmer Dave Vandenberghe as he is improves his sheep flock using some pretty high tech means.

This is the first year Mr Vandenberghe has used the program MateSel, which was developed by the University of New England and managed through Sheep Genetics Australia.

MateSel is a computer program which selects the best ram (male sheep) for each ewe (female sheep), given the desired traits you want your lambs to have.

Sheep Genetics Australia said the program was being used by a large number of livestock and aquaculture species around the world, with nearly 100 registered sheep users in Australia and that number was growing each year.

Mr Vandenberghe said the program had not been hugely popular amongst merino breeders in WA, but given the recent rise in both sheep and wool prices, he expected that to change as farmers re-invest in the industry.

“As your breeding programs get more complex, it gets harder to keep track of your family groups and also get that gain that you want without getting confused by the amount of data,” he said.

Mr Vandenberghe has invested heavily in sheep technology in recent years.

Each of his 1,600 stud ewes have been DNA tested to find out who its parents are.

This helps prevent inbreeding when matching ewes and rams in the future.

Each sheep has full Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) which show traits such as birth weight, wool cut and eye muscle depth, which can all be selectively bred for.

These tests plus the use of electronic drafting machines, electronic ear tags, computer software and data analysis means it costs Mr Vandenberghe about $25 per sheep to improve his flock’s genetics in this way.

But he said he thinks it will pay for itself.

Source: Rural News

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