Genetics is future of sheep breeding
Sheep Value Index set to help farmers increase profitability
The importance of genetic improvement in animal production has long been established with approximately half of the gains that can be achieved in animal performance attributed to genetics.
Genetic improvement is permanent and cumulative so breeding decisions that you make today will impact future generations of animals in your flock. For example, if you were to use animals with "good" genes then the effects of these "good" genes will remain in the flock; on the downside the reverse is also true.
The contribution of genetics to profitable farming can be witnessed first hand in both the dairy and beef sectors in Ireland. Until recently the sheep industry had not witnessed these expected gains; however, with the establishment of Sheep Ireland in 2008, a dynamic genetic improvement breeding programme has been put in place. The ultimate goal is to be able to provide commercial farmers with estimations of the genetic merit of animals, which are comparable across breed, like that which has been achieved in dairy and beef cattle in Ireland.
The aim of the national sheep breeding programme is to produce a low cost, easy care sheep with good maternal characteristics, and one that will produce a quality lamb with high growth rates that will reach slaughter at a young age.
Data is recorded on the traits of interest across a range of commercial and pedigree flocks and the weighting of each trait is dependent upon its economic importance to the average farm. All economically important traits are then summed into three sub-indexes which in turn are summed together into an overall breeding index. This index, called the Sheep Value Index, is a tool to help farmers in making more informed breeding decisions that can increase flock profitability.
The Sheep Value Index is a measure of the genetic ability of the animal's progeny to generate profit at farm level. The Sheep Value Index is further differentiated into four goal trait groups, or sub-indexes, each weighted by their relative economic importance:
•Production Sub-index -- This ranks animals based on their ability to produce good terminal progeny. This takes into account the progeny's carcass characteristics and days to slaughter (growth rate). Carcass characteristics are predicted from ultrasound information and live-weights.