Farm Ireland

Friday 17 November 2017

LambPlus breeder numbers on the rise

Drive is also on for increased usage of high index, high accuracy rams

Suffolk and Texel imports from New Zealand on the Teagasc farm in Athenry - the widespread use of genomics by New Zealand sheep producers is driving an annual rate of genetic improvement that is three times the norm here.
Suffolk and Texel imports from New Zealand on the Teagasc farm in Athenry - the widespread use of genomics by New Zealand sheep producers is driving an annual rate of genetic improvement that is three times the norm here.
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

The number of breeders signed up to LambPlus continues to rise and now stands at 600, according to Sheep Ireland's Eamon Wall.

Sheep Ireland is now recording more key traits for the flocks, including health information on top of the usual growth traits.

"This year we also have carcase data from the central progeny test (CPT) flocks," he said, adding they agreed with breeders that it was long overdue.

He also unveiled a pilot project for later this year which is designed to get more breeders using the high index, high accuracy CPT rams.

"A lot of breeders have submitted rams to the CPT programme over the years. We've got loads of commercial data on the rams and increased their accuracy, they're high index rams. Unfortunately they go back to the breeders and maybe don't get the widespread use we'd like them to get," he said, adding they would also use the LambPlus sale on August 27 in Tullamore to promote the message to commercial farmers.

"On the beef side of things there is GeneIreland and test bulls and farmers are used to using these young bulls and testing the best genetics. That is something we want to try and stimulate on the sheep side."

Mr Wall said it was a pity there was no EuroStar element in the new knowledge transfer programme but they were hopeful there would be a push for genetic improvement in future schemes.

He said the data quality index, a simple rating, would be published in sale catalogues this year for those breeders who had participated in the pilot projects.

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"Over time commercial farmers will latch onto this and see it as a measure of a breeder engaging strongly with the system," he said.

"From commercial farmers we've gotten feedback they'd like to know where these CPT sires are. There is certainly a growing attraction from commercial farmers."


Teagasc expert Donagh Berry said they selected 10 flocks from the five main breeds as a pilot project for the genomics programme.

At the moment the genotypes cost €62, including the tag and VAT, for a panel with 50,000 DNA markers or €28.50 for a 15,000 panel which includes major genes.

"Everybody in the world is doing this. When I started genotyping in dairying in 2008 I paid €272, now I'm paying €22. We do see the cost of this DNA profiling coming down. I'd like to see it down to at least the €22 that we are paying for cattle," said Dr Berry.

Teagasc PhD student Aine O'Brien explained only the animals that lambed down in 2016 were genotyped.

She pointed out there were a number of sheep samples failing the 'call rates' at which they deem it correct, with a number of factors being blamed.

"Part of the reason could be error in sampling with a lack of biological material. Obviously if you have no tissue sample for that animal you can't genotype it," she said. They also identified an issue with some tags.

"The main cause we are going to have to put down to the tag. Initial call rates were very poor and were up around 10pc," she said. Ms O'Brien said they have doubled the amount of preservative to keep the tissue from going off. "That led to a notable improvement in the call rate."

There were nearly 13,000 genotyped, with 5,000 animals with a parent also genotyped.

"There were just over 2,700 animals that had their sire genotyped and 271 of these sires were incorrect or about 10pc," she said, pointing out over 7pc of dams were incorrect.

Ms O'Brien said the errors were quite similar to the parentage rates in beef cattle.

"There are reasons why it could be wrong, it could be the wrong animals sampled, incorrect assignment of DNA ID, it could be escapees at mating or a lamb mismatch at birth," she said.

Ms O'Brien said it needed to be discussed to potentially resample those animals and for pedigrees to be corrected in flockbooks.

"People are realising 10pc of the parentage is incorrect so they need to go seek an animal that is parentage verified," said Dr Berry.

"If you have 10pc parentage errors then genetic gain is 10pc slower than what it should be at a national level.

"Profit in sheep is very low, imagine if I was to tell everybody I'll give you 10pc more money in the next year or two," he said. "It was found across all 13,000 Ovigen flocks. It is more than likely the mis-mothering or the period when rams are changed at mating. The key is that 10pc is normal, it is not bad."

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