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Macquarie’s modern mix

June 6th 2013
By Rebecca Sharpe – THE LAND

THE OLD saying that sheep breeding is a numbers game stands true when considering the history of the Macquarie Dohne stud.

Instrumental in the introduction of the Dohne breed to the eastern States of Australia, stud co-principal Greg McCann said it was the early breeding program that established Macquarie Dohne stud as one of the largest and most genetically diverse Dohne studs in the country.

A year after travelling to South Africa in 1999 in search of stud Dohne ewes for embryo flushing and subsequently importing 50 per cent of the first Dohne embryos into Eastern Australia, Mr McCann and stud co-principal John Nadin registered the stud from its home-base on 4300 hectares at “Mumblebone West”, Warren.

During the early days, Mr McCann said the aim was to get flock numbers up using his veterinary skills in artificial breeding- in their biggest year, 2200 embryos were implanted.

“Sheep breeding is a formula- John brings his managerial skills, sheep classing skills and day-to-day running to the equation and what I’ve brought to the equation, apart from my role in introducing the breed to Eastern Australia, is I’ve applied modern breeding technology to what we’ve been doing,” he said.

It is the stud’s “multiplication capacity”, according to Mr McCann, that makes the stud a leader in its field.

With almost 2000 registered stud breeding ewes, Macquarie Dohne genetics include some of the leading bloodlines in the country such as Roseville Park, Uardry, Koobelup, Glenlea, Amuri Creek and Mt Alma.

‘We have developed six families within the stud over the years. When you have clients from 30” rainfall to 8” rainfall you need families that are suited to these environmental extremes’.

The stud also utilises link sires as part of the Southern Dohne Breeders Group program, with this year’s link sire being from DD Dohne stud, Moama.

Macquarie genetics have also been a major contributor in the establishment of the Dohne breed in a number of other countries including New Zealand, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru and the Falkland Islands.

“There is 12 years of data behind the Dohne’s- everything is recorded so you can really make a genetic gain there,” Mr Nadin said.

Selling up to 500 rams annually in sales at Naracoorte, South Australia; Ballarat and Hamilton in Victoria; Campbelltown in Tasmania and their on-property sale in Warren, Mr Nadin said it was important to take the sales to the clients.

As part of the plan to continue to “deliver the goods”, Mr Nadin said it was a “matter of being out there and showing what the Dohne has to offer, spending time with clients and getting feedback”.

Over the last 12 years Macquarie Dohne has set the benchmark high, breaking the Australian record at auction twice- in 2002 at $16,000 and two years later at $20,000 for MD030681 Olympus, who was the number one ranked sire in Australia. Another number one ranked sire in Australia MD04-1440 Majestic sold for $15,000, the highest price paid for a Dohne ram in Victoria.

At last year’s Premier Dohne Stud Sire Sale, Adelaide, Macquarie sire MD103168 “Ace Family”, sold for the sale’s top price of $12,000 to a syndicate including Havelock Park Dohne Stud, Stratford, VIC, Koonik Dohne Stud, Nurcoung,VIC, and Kardinia Dohne Stud, Corowa, NSW.

Macquarie has also excelled in fleece and carcase competitions taking out the overall champion pen of lambs at the Southern Meats Hook Competition, Goulburn, three champion fleeces at the National Expo & Sale, Dubbo and the Champion Dohne exhibit three times at the Australian Fleece Competition, Bendigo.

Maintaining the award-winning quality of their flock has not come easily, with a strict selection process and consistent breeding program used to increase the eminence of Macquarie Dohnes. ‘Our Australian Dohne Breeders Association appointed classer, James Koster, has played a major role in the development of the Macquarie sheep. James & I have classed together for over 20 years. You can’t underestimate the value of this relationship’.

While embryo transfer (ET) and flushing was used early-on as a means to increase numbers quickly, the stud has continued its use in the breeding program, flushing the top 25 ewes every second year to continue the leading genetics of their flock.

“Greg goes through and picks the top 150 special stud ewes based on their breeding values & progeny performance and then I will go through and pick 25 based on visual & breeding for flushing,” Mr Nadin said.

To fit in with multiple sale dates, Mr Nadin said they incorporated a two-joining breeding program.

“We join almost half to lamb in May and the rest are joined to lamb in July and August,” he said. “The tops of the autumn rams then go to multi-vendor sales while the winter-drop rams go to the on-property sale.

“This is so we aren’t taking the cream of the crop to a single sale while also encouraging clients to come to the on-property sale.”

The stud and commercial ewes, and stud rams are shorn in early April while sale rams are shorn in June.

“It’s a lot more handling but provides consistence at sales,” he said.

This year 120 embryos were implanted from our top performing ewes. ‘What we find is that 80% of the sires retained in the stud are out of these ET programs. This ultimately lifts the quality of our single stud ewes, Mr Nadin said.

Currently breeding with a focus on staple length, Mr Nadin said the stud had an average of 19.8- to 20-micron fleece in what was typically 21-micron country.

“Into the future we will keep focusing on early growth rates, reaching slaughter weight earlier, increasing wool weight and quality to further diversify the breed.”

The availability of pedigree information and performance data also worked in Macquarie’s favour with Mr McCann saying it takes the guess work out of breeding.

“There are a lot of the same lines when breeding so having the resource and tools to assess the progeny of our sheep side-by-side with others and link back the performance of animals, in essence, sets the breed apart.”

May 2013 on farm