AUSTRALIA’S sheep ind-
ustry is providing gen-etics and advisory ser-vices to farmers in the remote Falkland Islands.
New South Wales sheep consultant Sally Martin has been hired by the island government to work with producers to enhance their sheep breeding programmes.
This has resulted in sales of DNA tests after it was found the island flock has strong connections to the Australian Resource Flock.
“They have quite a big ram breeding operation using Aust-ralian genetics that are recorded on the Sheep Genetics database, and because they are so closely related to our flock we will be able to use Australian DNA testing systems to provide them with genomic predictions,” Martin says.
The islands are a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, 480km off South America, with a sheep population of 490,000 head of mostly Corriedale and Polwarth, but with increasing Merino bloodlines, run across 81 farms totalling 1.1 million hectares.
The main export is wool, producing 1.7 million kg (greasy) annually, with an average fleece weight of 3.76kg.
However, the cold climate and poor soils are a major limiting factor for production, with only 301ha planted to annual forage and 116ha to improved perennial pastures.
As a result, the Falkland government has been supporting an artificial insemination and embryo transfer programme to provide farms with superior sheep genetics, including its national stud flock, which has been sourcing semen from Australian studs.
Falkland government senior agricultural adviser Adam Dawes says the stud flock was init-
iated in 1992 with 500 animals from the Australian state of Tasmania.
“Australian Merino genetics have been used in the national stud flock over the last seven or eight years in an effort to improve wool quality and fleece weight,” Dawes says.
“As a result, the value of the wool clip has increased by 14 per cent in the last five years, based on today’s prices, and this improvement is a direct consequence of improved wool quality that has resulted from the intensive genetic improvement programme.”
Martin says the first step in working with the Falkland industry is to identify its breeding objectives and profit drivers, before moving on to the technologies available to measure and record the data needed to make better genetic selection decisions.