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  • Nutrition During Fetal Life Alters Annual Wool Production and Quality in Young Merino Sheep

    The effect of maintenance v, submaintenance diets of pregnant ewes in 1991 and 1992 on establishment of the wool follicle population in their progeny, and its effect on the progeny's wool production (quantity, quality and variation across the body of the animal) to 1.4 years of age was examined. The experimental protocol used cloned animals created by bisecting embryos at day 6 of pregnancy. Each clone was placed in a ewe, which was subsequently fed from about day 50 to 140 of pregnancy at maintenance or submaintenance. Ewes on maintenance nutrition maintained liveweight throughout pregnancy, while submaintenance ewes were 12.1 kg lighter (P < 0.001) 10 days before lambing. In 1991, a total of 74 lambs were born, including 17 sets of surviving clones. In 1992, 102 lambs were born, including 18 sets of surviving clones. Only data for the 35 sets of genetically identical 'twin' progeny and their dams are reported. Birth weights of lambs born to ewes fed at the submaintenance rate were 0.5 kg lighter (P < 0.01) than their 'twins' born to ewes fed at maintenance. Midside secondary:primary (Sf: Pf) ratios for mature wool follicles were less (P < 0.01) at birth, lamb and hogget shearing (1.4, 1.5 and 2.1 units respectively) for the progeny born to ewes fed at submaintenance. Progeny from ewes on the submaintenance treatment produced less clean wool, 0.1 kg to 0.4 years of age (P < 0.01) and 0.14 kg between 0.4 and 1.4 years of age (P = 0.10), than their maintenance counterparts. Hogget wool was 0.1 pm broader (P < 0.05), with a 0.5% units lower coefficient of variation of fibre diameter (P < 0.01), and a position of break closer to the staple tip (P < 0.001) for progeny of submaintenance ewes than their maintenance counterparts. There were no significant differences in yield, staple length, staple strength and percentage of fibres greater than 30 pm in diameter. Differences in mean fibre diameter arose between 1 and 1.4 years of age, coinciding with the period that the animals were grazing high quality pasture. Effects of maternal undernutrition on mean fibre diameter and Sf: Pf follicle ratios of progeny were most pronounced on the hind leg (P < 0.01), and not significant on the front leg. However, variations in other wool quality traits across the body of the hoggets, expressed as a percentage of the midside value, were not significantly affected by maternal undernutrition. Clearly when evaluating management strategies for the pregnant ewe, the effect on lifetime production and quality of wool of their progeny needs to be considered. Merino hoggets that produce an extra 0.14 kg clean wool that is 0.1 pm finer will compensate for some extra management and feeding of their dams during pregnancy to prevent weight loss. If these effects continue throughout the life of the animal, then it will increase the cost effectiveness of feeding to maintain maternal weight over pregnancy. more »
  • The Effects of Pasture Inputs and Intensive Rotational Grazing on Superfine Wool Production, Quality and Income

    A farmlet experiment was conducted between July 2000 and December 2006 as part of the Cicerone Project, which sought to enhance the profitability and sustainability of grazing enterprises on the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales, Australia. A self-replacing Merino enterprise was grazed as the dominant livestock enterprise, together with ~20% of the carrying capacity as cattle, on each of three farmlet treatments: higher levels of soil fertility and pasture renovation with flexible rotational grazing over eight paddocks (farmlet A), moderate soil fertility and pasture renovation with flexible rotational grazing over eight paddocks (farmlet B) and moderate soil fertility and pasture renovation with intensive rotational grazing over 37 paddocks (farmlet C). Prior to commencement of the trial, the three 53-ha farmlets were allocated equivalent areas of land based on soil type, slope and recent fertiliser history. This paper describes the effects of the three pasture and grazing management strategies on the production, quality and value of the wool produced per head, per ha and per farmlet. Up until 2001 there were no differences in wool production between farmlets. Thereafter, significant differences between farmlets emerged in greasy fleece weight per head and price received per kg of fleece wool. For example, the clean fleece value averaged over the 2003–05 shearings for all hoggets, ewes and wethers was 1531, 1584 and 1713 cents/kg for farmlets A, B and C, respectively. There were small but significant differences, which varied between sheep class and year, between the farmlets in average fibre diameter and staple length but less so with staple strength. In general, while the differences between farmlets in staple strength varied over time, farmlets A and B tended to have wool with longer staple length and broader fibre diameter than farmlet C and this affected wool value per kg. Differences in wool income per ha between farmlets grew in later years as the farmlet treatments took effect. In spite of farmlet A having a slightly lower wool value per kg, after taking into account its greater fleece weight per head and its higher stocking rate, the total wool income per ha was higher than on either farmlets B or C. The average gross wool income per ha from 2003 to 2005 was $303, $215 and $180 for farmlets A, B and C, respectively. The highest amount of greasy wool produced was in 2004 when 38.2, 26.5 and 21.5 kg/ha was harvested from farmlets A, B and C, respectively. The fibre diameter profiles of 2-year-old ewes showed similar profiles for farmlets A and B but a significantly finer fibre diameter profile for farmlet C ewes due to intensive rotational grazing. However, sheep on all three farmlets produced wool with high staple strength. Multivariate analyses revealed that greasy fleece weight, staple length and staple strength were significantly positively correlated with the proportion of the farm grazed at any one time, and with soil phosphorus, legume herbage and green digestible herbage thus highlighting the significant influence of pasture and soil inputs and of grazing management on wool production and quality. more »
  • Alpaca Fleece Development and Methods of Assessing Fibre Quality

    The paper defines the major quality attributes of alpaca fibre (fibre diameter, fibre length, fibre colour, contamination and incidence of medullated fibres). The development of alpaca fleece and skin follicles is then discussed. The connection between the evolution in the textile market and alpaca fibre quality are discussed particularly in regard to fibre diameter variability. Suggestions on the methods of assessing fibre quality in the shearing shed, in the laboratory and in the office are made. Preliminary data from a survey of Australian alpaca fleece quality are presented along with some examples of fibre diameter and medullated fibre histograms produced by measurement on the optical fibre diameter analyser (OFDA). The paper concludes with a brief discussion on the main management and environmental effects on alpaca quality. more »
  • Measuring and Managing Wool Quality

    Processors and wearers still often judge the comfort of lightweight wool knitwear by squeezing the fabric to gauge how ‘soft’ it is, believing a softer feel or ‘handle’ will provide an excellent wearing experience and not prickle or irritate the skin. However, Sheep CRC research has shown this relationship to be unreliable. Reliance on this relationship means that uncomfortable wool knitwear is being produced and sold, which continues to reinforce the notion that wool is a prickly fibre. New objective testing devices for comfort and handle provide the opportunity to ensure all wool garments are fit for purpose and positively reinforce the exceptional comfort properties of wool. more »
  • Relationships Between Skin Follicle Characteristics and Fibre Properties of Suri and Huacaya Alpacas and Peppin Merino Sheep

    We aimed to quantify the number, type and arrangement of skin follicles in Huacaya and Suri alpaca skin and correlate their follicle characteristics with fibre traits of harvested fibre and compared these relationships with those of Merino sheep. Fibre and skin samples were collected from the mid-side of 12 Huacaya alpacas, 24 Suri alpacas and 10 Merino sheep. The mean fibre diameter (MFD ± s.e.) of the Huacaya and Suri were: 35.5 ± 0.9 and 28.3 ± 1.0 μm, respectively. The follicle groups found for alpacas were very different from the normal trio of primary follicles found in sheep and goats. The follicle group of the alpacas consisted of a single primary follicle surrounded by a variable number of secondary follicles. The mean ± s.e. primary follicle density was 3.1 ± 0.3 and 2.7 ± 0.1 follicles/mm2 for Huacaya and Suri, respectively. The mean ± s.e. secondary follicle density (SFD) was 13.7 ± 1.2 and 17.5 ± 0.6 follicles/mm2 for Huacaya and Suri, respectively. The mean ± s.e. ratio of secondary to primary follicles (S/P ratio) was 5.1 ± 0.5 for the Huacaya and 7.3 ± 0.2 for the Suri alpacas. The sheep had higher S/P ratios and SFD, lower MFD and produced significantly heavier fleeces. The key correlations found between traits in alpacas include a negative correlation between SFD and MFD (r = –0.71, P = 0.001) and a negative correlation between S/P ratio and MFD (r = –0.44, P = 0.003) and a positive correlation between S/P ratio and total follicle density (r = 0.38, P = 0.010). The study revealed that important relationships exist between alpaca skin follicle characteristics and fibre characteristics. It was the number of secondary follicles in a group that imparts density and a corresponding reduced MFD. more »
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