Farm Ireland

Saturday 18 November 2017

'Sheep producers must invest in genomics to compete on international markets'

Teagasc genetic expert Donagh Berry at Beef 2016. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Teagasc genetic expert Donagh Berry at Beef 2016. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Sheep breeders are being urged to invest in genomics to make their produce more competitive in international markets.

Researchers behind the Ovigen project to drive genomic improvements with proven rams are examining options to continue the project for the next year or longer.

Around 60pc of the ewes from LambPlus - the performance recording service provided by Sheep Ireland to all pedigree ram breeders - are part of the Ovigen project, which includes around 12,000 ewes and rams.

James Murphy, chair of Sheep Ireland, has stressed that other countries are using genomics to drive improvements and profits in their sheep industries and Ireland must not be left behind.

"Other countries are going to use DNA sampling, they're going to use genomic selection and the technologies. We'd be foolish not to use them ourselves," he said. "Sheep is a low income sector and the question is whether there is value for money here. I think there is, it is a solid investment."

Teagasc genetic expert Donagh Berry (pictured) said they have spent around €500,000 so far building up a database.

"The Department of Agriculture have put about €400,000 to €500,000 into this to build up this database. To do parentage you need to have the DNA profile of the parents obviously, so if you stop doing it now someone is going to have to spend €400,000 to €500,000 in three or four years time to do it all again," he said.

He pointed out when they started out in cattle they asked the breed societies if they might get €10 to subsidise it to allow more genotyping, pointing out the Angus society paid €5 and the breeder €5 while other societies subsidised the €10.

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Researcher Noirin McHugh said they favoured subsidising genotyping replacements lambing next year, with the breeder paying a portion of the costs at €10 plus the tag as the best value for the money left for the project.

"There is potentially funding available for this for two years. It would be a subsidised cost at €10 and you'd get back your genomic proof and the additional information," she said. Ms McHugh pointed out some samples have already been taken and this would allow for potential funding for two years.

Other options highlighted included genotyping all rams for the next three years or else fully subsidising genotyping replacement ewes and rams in 2017 from Ovigen flocks with funding available for just a single year.

However, at a Sheep Ireland meeting, a number of the pedigree breed societies pointed out that they might not have the same level of funding as pedigree beef socieites to push it through.

Mr Murphy said they would also discuss the issue with the Department of Agriculture.

Dr Berry queried whether farmers would prefer to go to a sale and know the exact parentage of a pen of sheep or a ram.

He said the extra €10 for a ram meant a farmer could be fully confident in the parentage.

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