Improving genetics: getting connected

Texel rams. Photo: file
Texel rams. Photo: file

Genetic evaluations in sheep breeds, and Texels in particular, were one of the topics of conversation during the recent Texel New Zealand four-day conference held in Cromwell and Alexandra.

Delegates spent one morning at Galloway, listening to speakers and looking at stud sheep.

One of the speakers, Beef and Lamb Genetics’ technology and extension manager, Sharl Liebergreen, talked about the advantages of connectedness between flocks.

‘‘Connectedness’’ was establishing the genetic links between different flocks, allowing comparison of sires’ genetic merits, Mr Liebergreen said.

‘‘Really good connectedness is created when progeny from a sire are measured in different flocks in the same year.

‘‘This isn’t always easy to achieve,’’ he said.

Mr Liebergreen said a high level of connectedness throughout the industry had several advantages.

It allowed animals to be benchmarked with more accurate breeding values, and breeders and commercial farmers could then make better-informed breeding decisions.

‘‘You can look at two rams but you cannot say one ram was genetically better than another without that appropriate evaluation,’’ Mr Liebergreen said.

He said one ram might look bigger, but that animal might have been born a single, rather than a twin or triplet, and therefore would have been the product of its environment, rather than its genetics.

Connectedness helped remove environmental influences from the equation.

Mr Liebergreen said connectedness was ranked from no connectedness to ‘‘0’’, ‘‘1’’, ‘‘2’’ or ‘‘3’’, which was the top level.

Better information and therefore better breeding decisions could lift the production of the national flock, so measurement of progeny and connectedness are important, he said.

Livestock industries from cattle to poultry used similar systems.

Connectedness has been part of the message Sheep Improvement Ltd and Beef and Lamb Genetics have been giving farmers for many years, and it had been part of the information distributed during the Beef and Lamb Genetics roadshows earlier this year.

An increasing number of farmers had been using connectedness data but some were still unfamiliar with the idea and its benefits, while others were strong advocates, he said.

He was keen for more breeders to take advantage of it for the benefit of their commercial ram buyers.

‘‘It’s a big picture thing and if we don’t keep on top of it, it will be to the detriment of everyone,’’ Mr Liebergreen said.

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