Note on the selection scheme for the Merino d'Arles breed
(Damien Theurkauff, France)
1-Priority : the index of milking value
The selection scheme for the Merino d'Arles is focused principally on improving milk yield and quality of ewes during their first month of lactation. The estimation of milk yield and quality is done indirectly by measuring lamb growth rate between 10 and 30 days. The ewes are then scored according to an index of milking value after considering other parameters. The highly scored ewes, say for example those with the best milking value after two lactations, are mated with rams descended from the best milking ewes.
The two other important criteria in the scheme are : growth of the lambs between 30 and 70 days and lack of seasonality : ability to reproduce from April to June
2-The role of wool in the selection scheme:
Since the creation of the Unité de sélection et de Promotion d'une Race Animale (UPRA) in 1977, breeders were concerned with conserving the quality of the fleece and especially the fineness of the wool.
All the fleeces were scrutinised by a wool expert (Ch DESTOUCHES) and labelled as either Merino d'Arles or not. This practice was contradictory to the priority of the selection scheme, since some hoggs could be refused because of the quality of their fleece although being daughters of good milking ewes. Also, some studies showed the limits of the reliability of the method based on human eye, whatever the expert (on a same animal, the scoring on fineness could be different from one day to the other, and very often, the results disagreed with the laboratory measurements.
Therefore, in order to maintain the good quality of the fleece, the UPRA started 4 or 5 years ago to send samples of wool to be analysed. The samples came from the sides of rams from the breeding centre that were potentially to be used by the Artificial Insemination Centre (58 analyses in 1996, mean of 20.6 microns, max 24.5, min 16.9). Rams with too coarse fleece were not used in AI, but were allowed to stay in the selection scheme.
3-In the future:
The index of milking value remains the priority but the improvement in this criteria does not seem to affect the quality of wool. However, since this year, the board of directors of UPRA (with the influence of Dr Allain) has decided to analyse wool fineness on all the future rams in the breeding centre. Rams which seem to affect badly the wool fineness will be withdrawn from the selection programme and sold to breeders who do commercial crossing.
Breeders who wish to work on the improvement of the fibre fineness will be able to choose rams with improved fineness of fibre and with average milking value. This approach will be continued, and it is emphasised, will be limited to rams selected for AI.
In the actual conditions of the market in the south east of France, cradle of the Merino d'Arles breed, investment in equipment and genetic improvement will not show a quick improvement in fleece value.
This work will only find its value if in the next few years, breeders support improving the breed. Some people have already done so. We thank them for it. We hope they will carry on to support them and that others will soon join them.
back to newsletter