[ASC-media] Media release: Sheep "ain't sheep"

JCA Media jca.media at starclass.com.au
Mon Nov 6 13:19:51 CET 2006

Sheep CRC Media Release

6 November 2006- for immediate release


Sheep ain't sheep, says one of Australia's leading sheep scientists.

And Professor James Rowe, CEO of the Australian Sheep Industry Cooperative Research Centre (Sheep CRC), aims to turn this simple fact into hundreds of millions of dollars in new export income for Australia once the nation recovers from the current drought.

"Contrary to popular belief sheep are not all alike-in fact they vary as greatly as individual people.  And some sheep are vastly more productive, and profitable, than others," Prof. Rowe says.

"Right now, woolgrowers across the continent are taking the hard-but necessary-decision to cut back sheep numbers in order to preserve their flock and country through the drought.

"The Sheep CRC has come up with a new way to help growers select the most profitable animals to keep on through dry times. This could literally add an extra $200-700 million to national wool income as the industry recovers post-drought.

"That's a permanent 10 to 30 per cent gain in earnings for a modest investment of around $1-1.50 per animal."

The key lies in clever software that calculates the profitability of individual sheep based on their fibre diameter, fleece weight and body weight. For the first time this gives the woolgrower the ability to pick out the top performers in a flock-and keep them while selling off the others.

With the best sheep in any flock earning 200 per cent more income on average than the poorest performers, the industry has a unique opportunity to lift its performance.  Trouble is, because sheep do tend to look alike, it's almost impossible to pick the top ones by eye alone.

"This is truly a revolution in how we see sheep," Prof. Rowe says. "We used to imagine Australia as a big land filled with huge mobs of more-or-less uniform animals.

"Now thanks to technology we are starting to see, and manage, sheep as individuals-for optimum profitability and minimal impact on the landscape."

With the climate predicted to become more uncertain under global warming and droughts more frequent or intense, such a tool will help to ensure Australian woolgrowers preserve only the most productive and profitable animals to breed from in future.

"We should also thank our stars we've got the Australian Merino to see us through the dry," Professor Rowe says.

"This animal is amazingly hardy. It grows wool all the time, even when conditions are very tough, and at the end of the drought it can produce quality lambs to market for cash flow and top wool producers to rebuild the flock.

"If climate becomes more erratic, the Merino is just the animal to cope with it. It was a national icon in the 19th and 20th centuries-and it could well be again in the 21st century for quite different reasons."

Prof. Rowe says that while the 2006 drought is extremely hard on both humans and sheep, it also offers the wool industry a chance to take a leap in productivity.

"For almost all Merino producers, the drought is a catalyst to measure their sheep (not just take the traditional look at them up the race) and offload the least productive ones first-when they go to rebuild numbers, they'll be breeding from a much better genetic base.

"Technology is achieving productivity gains in most Australian industries, but it's very rare that a single piece of technology can boost returns by hundreds of millions of dollars.  That's the case with high-tech sheep production today."

James Rowe, CEO, Australian Sheep Industry Cooperative Research Centre, ph 02 6776 1465 or 0418 810 130; james.rowe at csiro.au 
Deb Maxwell, Sheep CRC, 02 6773 3597 or 0407 376 463
deborah.maxwell at une.edu.au

Web: http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/ 

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