Sheep Breeding Objectives
Since its inception, the Mount Ronan breeding philosophy has been the production of hardy, athletic, vigorous sheep which are naturally independent pasture foragers. The objective of the breeding program is to identify those animals in the flock which possess superior genes for traits which will maximise returns to the commercial lamb producer.
Guy has always selected animals which were outstanding performers when run under truly commercial conditions. These animals generally contain those outstanding genes for a strong constitution, and they and their progeny will perform well under a wide range of commercial conditions. It is this philosophy which sets Mount Ronan’s breeding program apart from the rest of the sheep breeding industry.
Guy believes that the stud sheep industry has, and largely still is, focussed on the maximisation of supplementary feeding to enhance sheep appearance, because the goal of most stud sheep breeders is to win ribbons at shows or to have the biggest rams at auction. It is their genuine belief that the broader and more colourful the ribbon, the greater the value of that sheep to the industry. Unfortunately, the inclusion of these animals in a breeding program may often propagate inferior genes within breeders’ flocks.
As a result of Guy’s long association with the commercial poultry industry, he is acutely aware of the huge production gains which can be achieved when objective measurement is used to identify animals with superior production genes. Sheep at Mount Ronan are run commercially, and are only supplementary fed during times of feed scarcity. Self-feeders are never used for growing out or maintaining breeding stock. This is a totally deliberate policy. The stud industry, in Guy’s opinion, has made the over-feeding of stud animals into an art form in the single-minded search for show acclaim.
Mount Ronan utilises the LAMBPLAN or Sheep Genetics Australia (SGA) database to identify animals which possess highly desirable lamb industry traits. The LAMBPLAN program is able to generate accurate Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV’s) for each animal that has been recorded in the database and these ASBV’s estimate an individual animal’s genetic ability to produce offspring with desirable traits which are quantifiable.
Terminal Breeding Program
The White Suffolk terminal sire program at Mount Ronan has always valued sheep with excellent muscling and growth. In addition, we have always sought to breed from rams which were produced by outstanding high performance ewes.
Such potent ewes have always been the keystone of the highly successful breeding program at Mount Ronan, and the on-going identification of such ewes is the highest priority of the program.
We are extremely proud of the productive genetic performance ability of our sheep flock and when introducing outside genetics it is always infused through the elite ewes. As a result, the best sons are usually pretty trouble free at worse and outstanding at best.
The Terminal breeding program was commenced 44 years ago, and strict observation and record keeping has yielded the outstanding flock results Mount Ronan enjoys.
“We have never followed fads and fashions. Our benchmarks have been set by commercial reality and client feedback. Our goal has always been to maximise carcase attributes and constitutional strength. We have always appreciated the genetic gain that could be achieved in a breeding program when objective measurement was a key component.”
Mount Ronan joined the LAMBPLAN program in its first year and we welcomed the new initiative with complete enthusiasm. At last there was a program which could help identify sheep based on measured performance, a tool which we could utilise to arrive at a genetic evaluation of livestock capacity.
There is a selection for sheep with high early growth rates to 100 days, as well as having the capacity to grow out rapidly to heavier weight without becoming fat.
Mount Ronan terminals have an ASBV balance so that growth and muscle are positively correlated. This means that the genetics of the sheep promote excellent growth and muscling in their progeny. Fat genetics are kept at a level which guards against over fat carcases at heavier weights
The Terminal White Suffolk breeding program at Mount Ronan has resulted in a flock of sheep which is world class with respect to prime lamb production. The genetic objectives we have set for the program have been achieved, although the search for higher performance is on-going.
The program is designed to produce animals with a superior balance of ASBV’s. A balance between growth and muscling is maintained while at the same time we are always looking for animals with extra growth and muscling.
For updated graphs showing the genetic progress of Mount Ronan White Suffolks compared to the national White Suffolk flock, click here.
Maternal Breeding Program
A maternal breeding program was commenced in 2003 because we realised that there would be a demand for greater profit, and we worked in conjunction with Tom Bull of Lambpro NSW.
The maternal program identifies sheep which are the most efficient converters of grass to kilos of lamb. We search for sheep with the genetic ability to produce lambs which grow explosively to heavy weights. We don’t want the sires and dams of these lambs to have large adult size, as they cost too much to feed in the off-season (8 months of the year).
The program initially involved a large embryo transfer operation followed by selection of stock which offered us superior performance. There has been a continued careful selection for mothering ability, quietness, fertility, fatness, muscle and constitutional strength.
Since then, the introduction of selected Mount Ronan White Suffolk genetics has produced a new level of genetic performance. The introduction of maternal genetics from the Eastern States yielded some outstanding maternal performances which were able to be blended with the highest performing White Suffolk ewes at Mount Ronan. Mount Ronan maternals now consist of a stabilised blending of breeds. Finn, East Friesian, Texel, Border Leicester, Poll Dorset, Suffolk and White Suffolk genetics make up the mix.
We have evolved the Mount Ronan maternal into a “state of the art” lamb producing machine. We have used 44 years of careful maternal recording in our flocks to allow us to breed from ewes and rams of outstanding mothering genetics.
In addition, we have capitalised on the flock’s long history of elite carcase genetics. Growth and muscle have always been the hallmark of Mount Ronan selection and we have actively sought sheep with the ability to grow quickly to heavy weights without putting on too much fat.
The demands of the maternal program have required us to modify our leanness criteria so that we are selecting animals with slightly fatter genetics. This is essential so that ewes milk better and get in lamb more easily in the next mating period.
Mount Ronan maternals have the genetic ability to prosper in a wide range of environments, and to really excel under favourable conditions. Ewes bred out of Mount Ronan maternals and Merinos have much more growth and muscle are genetically a bit more fatter and are constitutionally much stronger than the traditional crossbred ewes sired by Border Leicester rams and Merino ewes. The wether lambs finish very quickly and hang up along with the best of meat breed genetics.
Mount Ronan maximises the opportunities for recording useful data utilising the LAMBPLAN or Sheep Genetics Australia (SGA) database. Total Genetic Resource Management (TGRM), an SGA work tool, is used to assist in the allocation of ewes to rams for the mating season. Consequently, desired breeding outcomes can be achieved while optimising genetic diversity and minimising interbreeding.
Lambs are caught at birth and identified to their sire and dam. They are ear tagged, birth weighed and the temperament of the ewe is recorded. Any poor mothering skills, lambing difficulties, teat or udder problems, or poor constitutional characteristics are also noted. This data is entered into the LAMBPLAN database.
When the lambs are weaned from the ewes (about 125 days of age), they are weighed again, and this second round of data is also entered into the LAMBPLAN database.
A late scanning takes place when the lambs are around 225 days of age, and this very important information is added to the database. A LAMBPLAN accredited scanning operator uses an ultrasound probe to measure the cross sectional depth of muscle and fat at a specific site on the sheep (C site), and the animal is also weighed again.
This is the basic process which results in the production of highly relevant Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV’S) which estimate an individual animal’s genetic ability to produce offspring with traits which are quantifiable.
Adult sheep at Mount Ronan are run commercially and are only supplementary fed when feed is scarce. Minerals are offered to the sheep in the form of loose mixes during the summer and autumn, as the area is deficient in many of the key elements required for growth, fertility and general health.
Breeding ewes are vaccinated pre-lambing with Glanvac B12 6 in 1, Eryvac and vitamins A, D & E. Lambs are vaccinated with Glanvac B12 6 in 1 and Eryvac at marking time and with Glanvac B12 6 in 1 at weaning. They are given another booster at 12 months of age.
Adult sheep are run in large mobs except when being prepared for mating or during lambing.
As a result, sheep which are constitutionally inferior are more easily recognised and can be removed from the breeding program. Conversely, sheep with genes for a strong constitution can be promoted to best advantage.
At Mount Ronan, grazing is the main activity and only about 10% of the arable land is cropped each year. Consequently, ewes learn to do well on the relatively short pasture growing phase (June – October), and then eat dry pasture over the summer and autumn. They rarely have access to fodder oat crops.
The lambs are weaned onto oat crop and are usually run right through the summer and autumn periods without any other supplement other than loose mix minerals.
Once there is a grass cover after the first winter rains, the ram lambs are totally dependent on pasture for the growing-out period up to sale time. They are not supplementary fed and are super fit and athletic and ready to go to work.
The rams are run in one flock and are usually shorn ready for sale in mid-August.