Lynda Gray

Breed values are not the be-all-and-end-all of a successful breeding plan, but there’s no arguing that they’re the best way of assessing the true genetic value of an animal.

However, that science-backed genetic value is often lost on potential buyers who get swept away with what they see in the sale ring. They’re star struck by the perfectly presented two or three-year-old stag and that visual impression often clouds the power of its associated breed values (eBVs).

“I think that’s one of the biggest things that confuses farmers about breed values. There’s a disconnect between what they see in the sale ring and the eBV in the sale catalogue,” Sharon McIntyre says.

“A breed value represents the true genetic merit and is based on actual measured performance of the animal and/or parents, factoring out the influences of the environment and feeding whereas the two or three—year-old in the sale ring has been very much influenced by feeding and management.”

McIntyre is manager of DeerSelect, the national deer recording database of pedigree and performance which is used to produce eBVs and economic indices that indicate the value of a stag as a parent.

She has managed the DeerSelect database since 2012 and is justifiably proud of how it has delivered on the industry’s mandate of improving the productivity and profitability of deer farming.

“Over seven years there’s been a huge improvement in the quality of data and robustness of the estimated breed values (EBVs) which has given breeders increased confidence in what they’re breeding,” she says.

“I think what’s especially cool about this role and DeerSelect is how it integrates and applies the science from the deer industry such as the deer progeny test (DPT).”

The DPT started in 2011 to collect, measure and analyse over three seasons carcase, venison and maternal trait data from the progeny of almost 1580 hinds and 35 sires on three commercial farms. The data formed the basis of new traits and breed values eventually added to DeerSelect.

She says that farmers need to remember that the stags used this season will impact on productivity and profitability for the next 8-12 years through the performance of retained daughters, and that’s where DeerSelect can help.

“There are eBVs for a range of traits from early conception, to meat yields, to mature hind weights giving farmers the opportunity to choose stags with the right genetic profile for their herd.”

Controlling the pipeline

The DeerSelect role is a dream job for McIntyre who has 30 years-plus of practical and technical experience in genetics.

“I’m in control of the genetics pipeline and involved in everything from evaluation to the technical and applied aspects.”

She is an Agricultural Science Lincoln University graduate and completed a Master of Animal Science by correspondence at the University of Sydney. Her genetics-based career has included MAF and private consultancy work, a technical support role with Sheep Improvement Limited as well as the DeerSelect role.

DeerSelect was launched in 2004 and the first eBVs measured liveweight gain and maternal characteristics such as early calving and high weaner weights. However, many more were added such as eye muscle size (EMA) following completion of the Deer Progeny Test (DPT).

A new chapter of DeerSelect is in the making, with the calculation of economic value-based indices for a group of eBVs.

“It’s based on what’s been developed for the sheep industry and what we’re developing for deer are indices for growth, reproduction and venison that highlight in financial terms the benefit of using a stag with a particular index.”

The ever-evolving status of the DeerSelect database keeps it a relevant and valuable tool from which farmers can make breeding decisions, McIntyre says.

“It’s a practical model that keeps delivering in a practical way.”