Katanning’s new Sheep Feed Intake Facility has launched its first research project — a five-year effort aimed at helping farmers breed more efficient and sustainable animals.
The $3.8 million facility, which opened in April, was funded by the State Government as a site for the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development to conduct research into carbon sequestration and emissions reduction.
The new project, announced on July 29, aims to improve the feed conversion efficiency of sheep so future generations require less feed to produce more meat, while emitting less methane and carbon dioxide.
DPIRD is leading the research with help from Meat and Livestock Australia.
The department said the research would underpin the addition of sustainability traits to Australian Sheep Breeding Values, or ASBVs, so farmers could select animals that achieve their breeding objectives.
Lambs from DPIRD’s Genetic Resource Flock at Katanning, which also receives MLA funding, will be used for the project.
Project lead, DPIRD research scientist Beth Paganoni, said the facility’s state-of-the-art equipment would enable accurate measures of feed intake, gas production and body composition to be measured together for the first time.
“It has previously been difficult to measure feed intake on large numbers of sheep accurately, but now we have the facilities and technology to do so,” she said.
“Over the next five years we plan to measure the feed intake, growth and composition of about 4000 lambs from 100 sires to investigate the genetic relationships between feed intake, feed conversion efficiency and gas production.
“These ASBVs will assist the Australian sheep industry to breed a more efficient, sustainable flock, while reducing production costs and improving environmental outcomes to respond to customer demand for low emission meat and wool.”
The biggest of its kind in Australia, the feed intake facility — which can accommodate 300 sheep in 20 pens — is housed at DPIRD’s Katanning Research Station farm.
It includes a semi-controlled environment with technology to continuously monitor temperature and an automated feed delivery system.
Each sheep will have individual meals weighed using electronic identification technology and total feed intake recorded throughout a 24-hour period, with emissions measured using portable accumulation chambers.
A new Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry, or DEXA, machine will be used to objectively measure muscle, fat and bone weight, to provide a live analysis of body composition.
The animals’ initial diet will feature a high growth feed regime, such as feedlot grower pellets, to provide the foundation benchmark, though the research could later extend to poorer feed quality and additives.