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Comparing Genetics: Learning From New Zealanders

20 October 2014

Teagasc

An Irish research farm is pitting a native flock and a New Zealand flock against each other with interesting results expected.

Over the past five to six years, farmers have worked with Teagasc and Sheep Ireland to develop a breeding strategy for Irish sheep farmers, write researchers at The Irish Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc). 

The sheep industry in New Zealand has been involved in similar developments for many years, and is therefore at a much more advanced stage than the industry in Ireland.

New Zealand sheep in Athenry

Teagasc researcher Noirin McHugh has recently imported 60 ewes from New Zealand. They arrived in Athenry on August 2. They have been lambing in recent weeks with lambing due to be complete at the end of September (this coincides with spring lambing in New Zealand). Half of this flock are Texels and half are Suffolk.

New Zealand Texel ewes with lambs at foot, at Teagasc, Athenry.

All of the animals selected were elite animals with high genetic merit. Over the next few years, the performance of these ewes and their progeny will be compared with their Irish counterparts.

Two flocks of Irish ewes are also being established, one with high genetic merit and the other with low genetic merit ewes. Half of each of these flocks will be Texel ewes and half will be Suffolk ewes.

This project will evaluate the index system to ensure that animals deemed to be of high genetic merit are generating more profit. It will allow for a detailed comparison between the Irish flocks and their New Zealand counterparts.

This project will also determine the suitability of New Zealand genetics for Irish grass-based production systems. The results of this trial over the next couple of years should be very interesting.

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