Sheep Ireland is achieving greater accuracy every year with its breed improvement programme - programme manager

Photo: Lorraine Teevan
Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Kevin McDermott

The average accuracy of Sheep in this year's Belclare Premier sale is 43pc, which is a 28pc increase from the 2010 sale. Accuracy figures will continue to rise as we collect more data from both pedigree and commercial flocks and add more traits to the evaluation (i.e. Slaughter data).

Accuracy is a function of genetic gain (ie, making the next generation more profitable than the last one, on an annual basis); therefore, the higher the accuracy, the faster the rate of genetic gain. So even with accuracies of 40pc, significant genetic gain can be made, and is being made.

Using data collected by farmers is the basis of every sheep breed improvement programme around the world. It would not be practical or feasible for Sheep Ireland to independently collect each piece of information from each flock.

What we can do - and what we are doing - is checking the data before it enters the genetic evaluation to exclude any information that is outside the expected range for a particular trait.

As reflected on the 2019 LambPlus sign-up forms circulated to all pedigree ram breeders in November 2018, Sheep Ireland now insist on breeders granting permission to access their flocks at any point throughout the year.

Sheep Ireland data recording technicians will be visiting flocks with a view to helping breeders to improve their data recording in areas where weaknesses are identified.

The DQI does have a data quality element, as the name suggests. What the DQI really helps to facilitate is giving LambPlus breeders tailored feedback on the areas where they can most improve their data recording, and yes, part of it is the volume of data submitted. This is because the more records in the evaluation, the more accurate the evaluations will be for everybody.


There is regular independent validation of the €uroStar indices carried out by Teagasc. This validation consistently shows that the five-star animals outperform their one-star counterparts.

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The most recent validation results show that flocks that use non-recorded rams v flocks that consistently use five-star rams to breed their replacements and factory lambs could be losing as much as €5 net profit per ewe per year due to reduced performance.

So while there are fluctuations (as there is in every breeding programme around the world) in the €uroStars, on average the five-star animals always outperform the others.

There are only two sources of data for ram lamb evaluations - from his pedigree (sire, dams, half-sibs, cousins, etc) and then the records collected on the ram lamb himself.

So, for well-proven bloodlines, the majority of ram lamb evaluations are made up from how his ancestors performed, with the records on the ram lamb himself only contributing in some part.

Each year, approximately 50pc of the data used in the genetic evaluations is from commercial flocks, who have no vested interest in entering inaccurate data.

The rams these flocks are using are from LambPlus flocks, therefore all this information also flows back to the ancestry of a lot of LambPlus flocks, making their evaluations more accurate.

While I would not argue that we have a perfect system, as there are always going to limitations and constraints to what is feasible to do, I do believe we are heading in the right direction and progress has been made - and the results are backing that up.

We are constantly looking at ways to improve the programme, from updating the evaluations, researching (and implementing) new traits that are important to farmers, increasing the awareness of the benefit of using the €uroStars among pedigree and commercial farmers, and having the results validated.

Genetic gain is the tide that raises all boats.

Kevin McDermott is a Sheep Ireland programme manager

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