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Tuesday, January 5, 1999 Published at 12:39 GMT


Perfect for ewe

Wool-growing farmers can now search out the perfect ram on the internet

A new dating agency has appeared on the World Wide Web but this time it's for sheep grazing the net for the ideal ram.

Looking for a big, young, fleecy ram? A few clicks on the Merino Superior Sires site and the name of Toland Poll B270 pops up, complete with his telephone number.

The site contains intimate details of the breeding performance of hundreds of Australia's star performers and allows farmers to find for the perfect stud to complement the needs of their flock.

"We've taken the sheep mating game into the 21st Century," says geneticist Dr Andrew Swan in the Animal Production section of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). "The website allows graziers to match the genetic abilities of individual rams to the precise requirements of their ewes, online."

"Baaa-rilliant idea"

[ image: British farmers mostly keep sheep for meat so growth rates and fatness are key]
British farmers mostly keep sheep for meat so growth rates and fatness are key
The UK's top sheep breeding expert agrees. "It's an excellent idea and has come up in working groups in the UK," says Dr Geoff Simm of the Scottish Agricultural College, talking to BBC News Online.

"But compared to other sheep farming countries, few UK farmers have internet access. Nonetheless, we should try and be ahead of the game, not behind it."

The Merino Superior Sires site is possible thanks to five years of CSIRO research analysing the performance of rams across Australia. The resulting database gives sheep breeders a clear indication of the genetic merit or "performance" of individual rams, believes CSIRO.

Amongst the vital statistics recorded are the body weight and shape, fleece weight and wool fibre diameter, that can be expected from a particular ram.

Question and answer

The information has been available in book form but, says Dr Swan: "The advantage of the site is that woolgrowers can ask questions to identify the top sires with the traits their flock require.

"If the need is for higher wool weight, they can quickly find a sire which is proven to deliver heavier fleeces; if it is for finer wool, then they'd pick a sire which transmits that quality more strongly to its progeny."

The website even allows woolgrowers to make their own graphs, visually ranking the performance of potential suitors to their ewes. Family background is always important in match-making and the stud flock from which the ram comes can be traced and examined.

"In an industry that has been slow to adopt new technologies, projects like this offer woolgrowers ready access to information to improve their enterprise, without having to leave the farm," says Dr Swan. "And scientists have a new, more efficient way of delivering their findings to the people who will use them."

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