Around the Camp: Sheep research, wool classing factsheet, biological defleecing update, market outlook

  1. Biomarkers for the experiential state of sheep
  2. Finding value in wool
  3. Harvesting biologically weakened wool
  4. Market outlook
  5. Upcoming Leading Sheep events
  6. Upcoming events
  7. Podcasts, eBulletins and surveys

Biomarkers for the experiential state of sheep

Did you know 61% of people want animal welfare assurance for red meat products?

Animal welfare perceptions are a driver of public trust in the livestock industry and have been shown to correlate with red meat consumption. Providing animal welfare assurance is crucial to maintaining the social license to sustain and grow demand for sheep meat and wool products. How do we provide this assurance?

Existing indicators of animal welfare assess the biological, physiological and neurobiological response to a stimulus. These indicators are limiting, as they generally show negative responses (fear or pain), they are difficult to measure in real time and high variability exists within and between animals.

New research is exploring a neuro-welfare approach that seeks to identify indicators of experiential state in sheep to assess their welfare. Instead of looking at a delayed response, this approach aims to assess the real-time processing of the stressor in the brain by analysing change in biomarkers such as oxidative stress, proteins and microRNA with a single drop of blood. Researchers used castration to induce a change in experience. Samples were collected regularly from lambs – from 15 minutes before castration to 96 hours after the treatment – to assess the change in biomarkers.

Initial results are presented by Sarah Babington in this QAAFI science seminar. Watch the Q&A session to find out why it was important for Sarah to live with the treatment lambs for two weeks before she took samples!

(Image source: Sarah Babington, QAAFI presentation 2023)

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Finding value in wool

How do you go about classing and selection? Regardless of whether you’re a data lover or more hands on, it’s important to keep your breeding objective front of mind when classing your flock. Then you can choose the best of both worlds – data and visual – to get you there.

Leading Sheep has developed a fact sheet that describes how visual assessment and data capture by electronic identification (eID) can be used to improve your business and profitability.

The characteristics producers can select for are extensive. Australian Wool Innovation’s (AWI’s) visual classing Merino sheep guide explains the economic importance of various classing traits. Using eID to track the trend in productivity of individual animals’ fleece and reproductive performance can inform selection to improve the value of the flock.

Elders district wool manager Brett Smith says a variety of traits – from micron to conformation to reproduction rates – should be considered during classing and selection.

“Fleece weight is the major influence on profitability, but there is clearly a premium for finer micron wools and for producers,” Mr Smith said. The technology to streamline classing and selection is constantly improving. There are many consultants, companies and networks to assist those looking to integrate technology in their operation.

For more information, view the fact sheet on the Leading Sheep website. This includes the link to AWI’s visual classing Merino sheep guide.

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Harvesting biologically-weakened wool

Research into wool bioharvesting has reached its next phase: development of a fleece removal process and sheep handling system.

AWI and The University of Adelaide have developed a mechanism for biological wool harvesting that weakens the fleece but not to the extent that it falls off in the paddock. While each staple is weakened by the biological compound, the strength of all staples combined is high and requires force to break them.

The challenge remains of how to harvest the wool practically, cost-effectively and with reduced demand for labour.

AWI is seeking project proposals to develop a harvesting solution that provides enough force to remove an entire fleece without cutting the wool. All proposals are to include a fleece removal solution that can be integrated into a manual or semi/fully automated sheep handling and wool harvesting system. Sheep delivery, catch and restraint and in-shed processing can be explored in conjunction with a mechanism for wool removal.

You can explore the background to the project proposal from AWI or read more from Sheep Central.

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Market outlook

Leading Sheep hosted a webinar with Mecardo in early November to provide an outlook for the wool, sheep and lamb markets and identify market opportunities. Mecardo described how current markets are reflecting a simultaneous surge in supply and drop in demand for numerous reasons. While relief in prices doesn’t seem likely in the short-term, there are positives. Merino wool prices are at their strongest level relative to lamb since 2019, processors have been increasing their throughput to cope with supply and market opportunities exist (you’ll have to watch the webinar recording to find out what they are).

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Upcoming Leading Sheep Events

  • 14 December (am). Producer demonstration site field day, Longreach. Click here to register. Contact Millie Sheales for more information.
  • 14 December (pm). Selection and classing workshop, Longreach. Click here to register. Contact Millie Sheales for more information.

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Upcoming events

  • 4 December. Unlock the power of social media workshop, St George. Delivered by Balonne Shire Council. Click here for more information and here to register.
  • 5-7 December. Nutrition EDGE, Longreach. Delivered by Desiree Jackson Livestock Management. Click here for more information and for registration details. Subsidy available for eligible regions.
  • 7 December. Webinar: managing wool market risk with forward selling. Delivered by Wool Producer Australia. Click here for more information.
  • 7 December. Pasture dieback workshop, Roma. Delivered by DAF. Click here for more information or register here.
  • 7-9 February. Nutrition EDGE, Longreach. Delivered by Desiree Jackson Livestock Management. Click here for more information and for registration details. Subsidy available for eligible regions.

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Podcasts, eBulletins and Surveys

New Leading Sheep podcast episode – Watching water

This episode talks all things remote water monitoring – from old to new technology. Andrew Barton from Longreach runs his own water monitoring start up and joins host Meg to discuss what options are out there. Listen here.

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