Breeding programs for sheep

For a breeding program to be successful you need to work out what sort of sheep you want to breed, based on traits that will improve your profitability and productivity.

Develop a breeding objective

A breeding objective states your desired level of improvement in these traits and how long these changes should take.

For example, your objective might be to:

  • increase clean fleece weight by 0.5kg
  • decrease fibre diameter by 1 micron
  • increase staple strength by 5N/ktex
  • while maintaining body weight, in a 10-year period.

Your objective should be specific, measurable and attainable:

  • focus on traits of economic importance rather than traits that have more to do with tradition or personal preference
  • for greater progress target traits that are highly heritable
  • monitor the current flock performance against customer or market needs and consider how this performance and customer need might change over time
  • wool producers might focus on fibre diameter, fleece weight, body weight and reproduction weight, as these tend to have the most influence on profit
  • prime lamb producers might focus on weaning and post-weaning weight, fat score and reproduction rate (number of lambs weaned per ewe joined).

Use a selection index

Selecting animals involves balancing several key traits. To make selection easier, traits can be combined into a selection index.

A selection index allows all sheep to be ranked with a single figure, on a scale from 0 to 100. The higher the sheep's index value, the higher its overall performance on the traits included.

Ensure your selection index matches your breeding objective.

Joining rams and ewes

When preparing rams and ewes for joining, you need to consider:

Make sure your rams and ewes are in good health and top breeding condition, as this will contribute to successful joining and achieve the highest pregnancy rates for your flock.

Managing ewes for successful breeding

It's important to know:

  • when to join your ewes
  • how to care for them before, during and after their pregnancy.

Having a thorough understanding of the breeding cycle, and identifying health issues early, will help you maximise your chances of sheep breeding.

Australian Sheep Breeding Values

Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV) are the national standard for benchmarking sheep based on their genetic merit. It allows you to predict how a ram's progeny will perform.

The appearance and performance of an animal is a combination of its genes and the environment in which it is raised (e.g. amount and quality of feed, single or twin). ASBVs take into account environmental effects, allowing for comparison of sheep based on the genes they will pass onto their progeny.

ASBVs are available for a range of economically important traits for both wool and meat sheep.

Commercial breeds in Queensland

Meat sheep breeds are becoming more popular due to increased demand for sheep meat and farm diversification.

The Merino sheep is predominant in Queensland.

Other breeds include:

  • Dorpers
  • Suffolk
  • Border Leicester
  • South African Meat Merino (SAMM)
  • Dohne.

Contact the relevant industry association for more information: