Power of genetics shines through

Power of genetics shines through

Monday, November 23, 2020

Deer farmer Duncan Humm – one of three deer farmers who participated in a case study that showed that selecting stags based on their breeding values works well in the real world.

Breeding values really show their worth in a commercial farm setting. That’s been the resounding conclusion of a year-long exercise on three commercial venison farms.

On each farm, sires with different BVs for their progeny’s weight at 12 months were mated with hinds in the farm’s breeding herd. The resulting progeny, born in late 2019, were all run together in the same conditions but linked to their sires using DNA parentage testing and weighed at regular intervals.

The aim of the exercise was to see whether Deer Select breeding values (BVs) for growth – in this case weight at 12 months, or W12 – would be expressed properly in a real-world situation. Deer Select is the national deer recording database. Using the database, BVs are estimated and economic Indexes calculated for deer on the database, based on their pedigree records and performance data.

On two of the farms, one elk/wapiti farm in Southland and the other a red deer property in Canterbury, the BVs for the two sires used were more than 10 kg apart. On each farm, the progeny of the higher-performing sire did indeed perform in line with expectations, with progeny averaging carcass weights about 4.5 kg heavier, worth about an additional $27 per head at today’s schedule prices.

Wapiti farmer John Hamilton said he always looked for good all-round venison sires, but this exercise had encouraged him to look more closely at growth BVs when making his selection.

Duncan Humm, who farms red deer in Canterbury was delighted with the way the progeny from the two high-BV sires had performed, noting the gap in their BVs for weight at 12 months had been born out in the final weights of their progeny. “When you’re choosing a sire it’s really important that the breeder’s objectives for genetic improvement are the same as your own,” he said. “That’s certainly how it worked out in this case.”

The third farm, in the central North Island also runs red deer. Farmer David Seifert tracked the weights of progeny of four high-BV stags, with a range of nearly 9 kg in their BVs for weight at 12 months. He was impressed that even though the progeny of the highest-BV sire had started out relatively light as weaners (mainly due to their dams being younger hinds), they grew faster than the other groups of fawns and eventually overhauled them. The superior genetics shone through and by 12 months they were the heaviest group.

“I was already a convert on the value of good BVs, but this exercise has really confirmed it for me,” he said.

Photo: Richard Hilson