The first of a series of three Think tank meetings held by the Dohne Merino breed society was held on April 15 at Frankfort, Free State, with good results for the Dohne industry. The total of 33 inspectors, Dohne Merino flock breeders and stud farmers who attended the event, thoroughly reflected on aspects that contribute to the improvement and expansion of the breed. Love for the breed and not own financial gain should be the driving force behind the initiative.
It was been reaffirmed that the breed will adhere to the main objective of generating at least 75% of flock income from meat versus 25% income from wool. It is essential that the breed’s adaptability to extensive commercial farming conditions is strengthened by, among other things, improving walking ability.
During the debate on the balance between meat production and wool production, it was mentioned, among other things, that wool production per animal should not be further increased, but that more attention should be paid to improving the quality of wool. Opinions included that reproduction and growth rate deserves more attention than wool characteristics during selection. Opinions have suggested that factors such as crypto and losses by vermin and theft, severely limits farmers’ ability to maintain high weaning rates. Everyone agreed that increasing reproduction rates without incurring additional input costs was the biggest profit driver at increasing meat production while improving meat yield percentage and feed conversion are of increasing importance when it comes to intensification.
Ram prices were seriously debated. One opinion was that good rams that increase commercial income can be worth as much as 10 young ewes. Another opinion was that rams at the national auction were disproportionately expensive, and sent the wrong message to flock farmers. Flock rams should be provided in large numbers at between R5000 and R7000. It has also been mentioned that excessively high ram prices are associated with good management and nutrition rather than actual genetic merit. More comments included that it is essential to provide functional and not overfed rams to the industry. Symptoms, such as purchased rams that remain infertile for long periods, cause hazard lights to flicker. In this regard, it has been mentioned that the tapping of semen (electric stimulation) before auctions can be a contributing factor to temporary infertility. The meeting agreed that Dohne breeders should do everything in their power to provide quality rams whose fertility has been certified. It was recommended that councilor Greyling further investigate practices that affect fertility of rams before and after auctions and make recommendations to the council on this and also link it to realistic time frames. A further recommendation was that it be made compulsory for rams be bled before auctions to test for Brucella Ovis.
As far as evaluation procedures are concerned, it was decided that good recording procedures are in place and that recording must be strictly adhered to in order to protect the integrity of the breed at all costs. Particular attention should be paid to the age at which weaning weights are recorded as well as the prescribed wool growth period.
Calculation of general merit values (GM / AM) and indices thereof (SIP), was discussed in depth. Methods for rearranging data and emphasizing growth rate during classification and selection were discussed and adopted.
Improvements made by Logix regarding more accurate breeding value evaluations were accepted in the spirit that the necessary scientific reasoning took place. The more readily availability of inbreeding coefficients from Logix for each registered Dohne Merino, may also contribute to better control of inbred matings and avoidance of the possible loss of genetic variation.
The important role that technical field officials play in the selection of registered animals and marketing of the breed was emphasized. Visual inspection of animals requires that inspectors across the country maintain uniform standards. Well-trained field personnel are indispensable to ensure the functionality of Dohne Merinos in combination with efficient production through measurements. After debating how information could be better used, it was concluded that homework should be done before inspection of rams and when selecting rams for auctioneering and at auctions with inspectors, to make better decisions. The opinion was also that specialized advice on selection decisions is at a higher level than can be expected from ordinary technical field officials. It was therefore suggested that brokerage firms consider appointing senior technical advisers across the country, who can provide the necessary advice on the effective use of increasingly sophisticated methods.Examples of problems with creeping belly (national auction), deviant type, fleece rot, hocks, and overfeeding were discussed so that assessment standards can be maintained more consistently. Comments included that the color of wool should be improved to limit fleece rot. The meeting recommended that breed standards be reviewed and cut-off points, especially with regard to characteristics that differ with degree of intensity, be better defined.
The Think tank concluded with a meal during which further discussions took place between all those present. Many thanks to Jaco Zaaiman for his arrangements.