Varying pasture growth and commodity prices change the value of traits in sheep breeding objectives

I.J. Rose, H.A. Mulder, P.N. Thompson, J.H.J. van der Werf, J.A.M. van Arendonk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Breeding programs for livestock require economic weights for traits that reflect the most profitable animal in a given production system. Economic weights are commonly based on average conditions. In pasture based livestock production systems the cost of feed is an important profit driver, but availability of feed from pasture can vary greatly within and between years. Additionally, the price of supplementary feed during periods of feed shortage and the prices for meat and wool vary between years. Varying prices and pasture growth can change the optimal management of the flock affecting profitability. This paper investigates how variation in commodity prices and pasture growth affect the economic values of traits in the breeding objective. We modelled a sheep farm with a self-replacing Merino flock bred for wool and meat in a Mediterranean environment. We optimised management decisions across 5 years using dynamic recursive analysis to maximise profit when commodity prices and pasture growth varied annually. Actual pasture growth and wool, meat, and grain prices from 2005 to 2009 were used. Management could adapt to varying pasture growth and commodity prices by changing sheep numbers, age structure of the flock and amount of grain fed to sheep. The economic value of seven traits in the breeding objective were compared for a scenario with average pasture growth and commodity prices over years and a scenario with varying pasture growth and commodity prices over years. Variation in pasture growth and commodity prices decreased average profit and increased the economic value of all breeding goal traits compared to the average scenario. The order of importance of traits stayed the same between varying and average scenarios but the relative importance of traits changed. The economic values that increased the most were for traits that had increased profit with the smallest impact on energy requirements such as yearling live weight, longevity and fibre diameter. Our results showed that it is important to account for variation in feed availability and commodity prices when determining the expected profit and economic values for traits. The results also suggest that whereas variation in pasture growth and commodity prices between years makes the farming operations less profitable, these changing conditions increase the genetic variation in profitability of sheep. Therefore, genetic improvement has more value relative to scenarios where pasture feed supply and prices are constant.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)94-104
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • multiple rearing ability
  • economic values
  • mediterranean environment
  • bioeconomic approach
  • functional traits
  • wool production
  • fleece weight
  • merino ewes
  • model
  • reproduction

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