More sheep improvements lie ahead for the Central Progeny Test (CPT), which has helped raise the genetic performance and meat production of the national flock since it began 10 years ago.
The programme, initiated by meat company Alliance Group, and now funded by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, may not make the rapid gains of before, but feeding developments are expected to continue progress.
The latest thought is to look at trialling rams on hill country where a large amount of sheep farming is based. Rams are currently tested at sites at Hawkes Bay's Poukawa, Canterbury's Lincoln and Southland's Woodlands.
Alliance livestock general manager Murray Behrent said the programme had been one of the sheep industry's success stories for lifting sheep genetics and had contributed to creating the database for Sheep Improvement Limited (known as SIL).
"The good thing about it is that there is no one super sheep of one breed, and it is good for the whole industry to have one ram respond well in one area and another respond well in another area."
He said the variety of rams profiled opened up more options and enabled the industry to produce sheep meat with different flavours and textures, which was critical to supplying meat at the top end of the marketplace.
Behrent said future gains could be made in sheep performance. "Genetic gains may slow down slightly, but the different feed grasses will improve dramatically and that will lift performance.
The better hill country cultivars will increase growth rates and lamb yields."
He said the programme had achieved "dramatic improvement" in the growth rates of the progeny produced by their sires by at least two to three kilograms and high yielding meat carcasses.
The progeny of the best lambs from terminal sires in the test reached a weight of 18 kilograms faster by 18 days than average lambs in the 2003-04 season.
This was accelerated to 26 days by the best lambs last season.
In the valuable eye muscle area, where the eye of the lamb chop is produced, the best lambs produced 3.3 square centimetres. This rose to 3.64sq cm.
The CPT is used to prove the genetics of a ram by comparing how lambs go on to perform compared to progeny from other rams under the same conditions.
Dual-purpose rams (producing sheep and wool) and terminal sires (producing meat lambs) are compared across multiple flocks by using the same rams across the test sites.
Alliance pays farmers on the meat yields of their lambs through its VIAscan technology which measures the meat on a carcass.
The meat company opened up the programme to the wider industry after launching it and continues to assist by testing for lamb taste and tenderness.
Ad Feedback Behrent said Alliance was happy to pass the programme on, so all sheep farmers could benefit by lifting their performance.
He said money was the best incentive for farmers to lift their genetics.
"We don't want to push the meat yields too high. They are at 61 per cent to 63 per cent which is high enough because [beyond this] the meat becomes too tough and tasteless.
We don't want to be too lean, and having a bit of fat provides taste."
Work was also ongoing to stabilise meat colour, because diners did not want dull- looking meat.
Alliance's best South Island farmer from Nelson produced 1700 lambs with an average saleable meat yield of 57.4 per cent at an average 18.6kg.
In the North Island a farmer with 1500 lambs achieved 59.63 per cent at an average 18.9kg carcass weight.
Both farmers would have earned 30 cents to 35c above the meat schedule rate for each kilogram of lamb produced.
Behrent said farmers moving from the lowlands to hill country had continued with the genetic gains and good farming practises and were finishing prime lambs when only a few years ago they were breeding store lambs.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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