The latest genetic technologies combined with data recording and carcass quality is at the heart of the Focus Genetics breeding program, targeted at prime lamb program.
The business is focused on enhancing prime lamb production and meat quality for Australian prime lamb producers through the Highlander and FocusPrime™ composites.
The self-replacing Highlander is a stabilised, closed composite developed in New Zealand using Romney, Texel and Finn genetics, while the FocusPrime™ remains an open terminal composite.
The Highlander features a moderate mature ewe size, with selection on lambing ease, lamb survival, milking and mothering ability to consistently deliver improved kilograms of lamb weaned per hectare.
FocusPrime™ uses the benefit of heterosis or hybrid vigour to achieve rapid growth, high retail meat yield, easy lambing and high lamb survival.
Focus Genetics exhibited at the Henty Machinery Field Days last year for the first time, displaying a maternal Highland ewe and her progeny, and a FocusPrime terminal composite ram.
Focus Genetics Australia general manager Kate Brabin is keen to promote the advantages of the terminal and maternal composite to Merino and first-cross ewe producers at Henty as a viable option to the traditional composite.
“We aim to breed a maternally efficient ewe weighing around 65kg and as a hogget, can wean her own bodyweight,’’ Ms Brabin said.
“With the maternal composite, our point of differentiation is efficiency – the mature ewe weight of 65kg as opposed to many other composites at around 90kg makes her more feed efficient and user friendly to shearers and stocking rates.
“We are not reinventing the wheel – we are just saying the wheel needs to get smarter.
“There are lots of terminal options out there so it’s really about market awareness and what you are producing to in order to determine the best composite option.
“The FocusPrime™ is an excellent terminal over Highlander or Highlander cross because producers are buying a system, a complete package genetically designed for efficient production and optimum yield.
“In a lamb from a Highlander by a FocusPrime, you have an animal that is fast to market and yields well within 17 weeks.’’
Ms Brabin has strong credentials in the red meat industry, having worked in supply chain verification for Certified Australian Angus Beef for eight years before taking over as CAAB chief executive officer for three years.
She lives with her husband and young family on a sheep and cropping property at Eurongilly, and leads a team of three regional genetics advisors for Focus Genetics in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
The advisors, along with a data integrity manager, operate across the company’s three ram breeding nucleus flocks operated by Leo and Vanessa Herbert, Eurongilly, NSW, Martin Clarke, Murnong Farming, Inverleigh, Vic, and Damien and Kirsten Croser, Kiranda, Penola, SA.
“The flocks have used both artificial insemination and embryo transfer to grow, with ram sales in Australia increasing from 150 six years ago to 1200 in 2018,’’ Ms Brabin said.
“All rams are selected either by the purchaser or their consultant or agent, and sold by private treaty at the Focus Genetics ram lamb or two tooth sale.
“We are finding producers are turning to Focus Genetics to moderate their ewe weights.
“We provide a full pre and post-purchase complimentary consultancy service to producers, covering their ram requirements and grazing management.
“Our rams are performance recorded on a trans-Tasman flock index and offered in three (price) tiers to suit all budgets.’’
Ms Brabin said outcross sires were introduced to the Australian ram breeding nucleus this year to create linkages with Sheep Genetics and LAMBPLAN.
“We have our own animals in the Meat and Livestock Australia information nucleus flock and have introduced genetically superior rams through artificial insemination to Focus Genetic flocks,’’ she said.
“Inclusion in the MLA Research Flock and the introduction of Australian composite sires will result in Australian Sheep Breeding Values generated for our Australian rams.’’
Focus Genetics Australia undertakes genomics on all Australian born animals across all three GBPs
Parentage is confirmed through DNA at the time of genomic testing also.
The sheep are genotyped for eating quality amongst other measurements, enabling the selection of the best ewe lambs for carcass quality to go back into the breeding program..
“We are monitoring IMF (intra muscular fat), particularly through the nucleus flock in the Riverina, and are utilising CT carcass scanning and genomics,’’ Ms Brabin said.
“From the chiller feedback, we are seeing increased red meat yield plus intra-muscular fat at similar or better levels than other mainstream meat breeds.
“In Australia, we are not paid on eating quality but we know how important it is in terms of the ever discerning consumer returning to a product.
“In this case, branded lamb is out there in small quantities and house brands is where it is at the moment.
“If we can align this breed with house brands, their demand will grow as customers keep coming back for a consistent and satisfying experience.
“Whilst we are not being paid to develop meat eating quality, we know how important it is to get a following for your product.
“Consistency is key and we know selvedge fat, lean meat yield and intra muscular fat is what consumers are making their buying decisions on so we need to be working in that space.’’
Ms Brabin said consistent and well-supported lamb brands would be the industry stalwarts.
“Consumers buy into brands – they need to know what they are eating, they need a story and comfort in their food,’’ she said.
“Brands won’t disappear, the structure of who owns them may change but they will remain an important part of the food selling process.’’
Ms Brabin said Focus Genetics also operated in the UK and Uruguay, and had fielded enquiry from the UAE on genetics.
“There are opportunities in lots of markets for Australian lamb given we haven’t had any major disease outbreaks,’’ she said.
“Australia is a relatively immature market and with maturity will come growth.
“We have seen a permanent lift in lamb and wool prices – they will reconcile and soften but will not return to levels of two years ago.’’
Focus Genetics is participating in the 2018 Sheep Week Field Days in NSW, Victoria and South Australia.
Visitors are invited to speak to the individual breeders about their flocks and programs, and inspect the FocusPrime™ and Highlander sheep.
This year at Henty, Focus Genetics will have FocusPrime™ ram lambs, Highlander ewes and crossbred lambs on display, plus national sales manager Jim Meckiff, Wagga, and Victoria/South Australia representative, Hannah Anderson, in attendance.