The day when producers can select rams on the basis of a single drop of blood is almost here.
The sheep industry has produced a genomic juggernaut which can rapidly advance genetic gains, improve profit and provide a unique marketing edge for Australian lamb.
It may sound like an ambitious pitch but the results of the five-year Sheep Information Nucleus Flock project involving Merinos, White Suffolks, Poll Dorsets and Border Leicesters, speak for themselves.
According to Sheep CRC Chief Executive Officer, Professor James Rowe, the achievements – which far exceeded the project’s goals – are testimony to the power of cooperation.
“It’s been a whole-of-industry exercise which included practically all of the 21 organisations who are official participants in the Sheep CRC, as well as about 250 ram breeders who provided semen from leading rams,” he said.
“At the start, in 2007, the sheep industry lagged behind the genomic progress of other livestock industries. Today we are abreast and, in some areas, ahead.
“Our intramuscular fat (IMF) data accuracy for terminal sires is 41%. In beef cattle it’s 40%, so we’re right up there with an industry that has been working on this trait for a lot longer.”
The project, which has focused on key economic traits which can’t be measured on farm, has improved the accuracy of many breeding values, as well as introduced genomic predictions for new traits that, because they are difficult to measure, have not been available.
According to MLA, the additional value to industry of genomically-enhanced yield and eating quality traits, alone, could be as much as $24 million a year.
Delivering on farm
The project has also progressed understanding of the genetics of traits important for human nutrition, such as omega 3, zinc and iron, creating potential for consumer-focused marketing in the future.
Sheep CRC’s Sheep Genetics Manager Sam Gill said commercial producers should see the impact of this research on farm within three years.
“With increased rates of genetic gain (about 25% in sheep), seedstock producers will be able to identify superior rams earlier that score highly in consumer-valued traits such as eating quality and yield,” he said.
“The level of expected accuracies for genomic values is still under development, however, there is no doubt the accuracy for hard-tomeasure traits such as IMF, which are presently very low, will be greatly improved to help producers deliver a better product.”
The price of genomic testing is expected to drop to below $40 within two years, making large scale testing more accessible to ram breeders.
MLA, which has supported the project since its inception and has pledged a further $2.2 million for ongoing research, helping transform the project to an industry-driven model.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.
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