The quest to uncover what gives Dorpers the edge over Merinos in the expansive rangelands of NSW has seen Department of Primary Industry (DPI) staff extract plant DNA from sheep dung.
DPI rangelands researcher Yohannes Alemseged said the DNA is contributing to a study which aims to develop grazing management strategies to support rangeland producers who have moved to non-traditional meat breeds.
“The most popular new breed is the Dorper and we have worked closely with farmers to understand how the animals browse and use the landscape,” Dr Alemseged said.
“Now we are testing the theory that these animals perform well in harsh environments because they are better able to convert low-quality feed to deliver production outcomes.
“We are analysing paddocks by identifying the plant species and comparing which species Merinos and Dorpers leave behind.
“This information will be cross-referenced with the plant species we have found in their dung samples by using DNA bar-coding.
“Sheep feed efficiency is being measured in trials at Wagga Wagga where we are monitoring nutrient digestibility against their intake of low and high-quality feed.”
Researchers at the Trangie Agricultural Research Centre are exploring what grazing management strategies will best work for producers and the environment.
Dr Alemseged said it was important to understand how Dorpers respond to Australian rangeland conditions.
“Their behaviour and management requirements vary from traditional Merinos and we also need to assess their impacts on rangeland resources.”
The project has also recognised the potential goats have in rangeland systems and in consultation with local graziers DPI has produced interim management guidelines for Dorper sheep and farmed goats.
Stocking rates, reproduction and grazing management requirements will be explored as researchers fine-tune the guidelines to deliver production and environmental benefits.
Management strategies and recommendations from the study, which is funded by the Lower Murray Darling Catchment Management Authority, are due for publication in 2013.
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