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New Zealand Extends Sheep Breeding Project

16 December 2015

NEW ZEALAND - Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics is increasing the breadth of testing for genetic potential in New Zealand sheep by adjusting the focus of its Central Progeny Test to increase relevance for commercial flocks.

The goal is to help breeders and commercial farmers more easily identify top genetics that will: perform best in their environment, particularly hill country; increase the number and diversity of locations in which testing occurs; increase the number of rams tested; and increase the connectedness of ram breeding flocks across the country.

The main objectives of these developments are to:

  • Assess the genetic potential of progeny in country that more accurately reflects the environment in which sheep are increasingly farmed (characterised as North Island hill country, dry hill country and South Island hill country).
  • Shift the focus to "Next Generation" sires by testing progeny of up-and-coming rams selected on potential genetic merit, rather than relying on older sires that already have progeny.
  • Increase the numbers of rams tested to increase flock connectedness (linkages) and allow breeders and commercial farmers to more accurately compare rams to increase genetic gain.
  • Achieve greater transparency through direct commercial farmer engagement at on-farm field days.

The first Next Generation flock will be established on a Horizon Farming Ltd property in the Hawke's Bay. It will have a terminal sire focus and evaluate leading young rams that are not yet progeny-proven.

B+LNZ Genetics General Manager Graham Alder says the developments in the Sheep CPT are, in part, inspired by the positive experience of involving commercial farms in the Beef CPT programme. It also reflects widespread feedback from leading sheep stud breeders and commercial farmers.

"The message and underlying logic is pretty clear. Progeny testing can be improved and the speed of genetic gain increased by upping the numbers of rams tested on real-life commercial farming sites. This is an important part of our strategy for lifting the rate of genetic gains across the industry."

All sites will follow best practise in animal management and will make use of advances in on-farm measuring and monitoring technology to aid data collection and data accuracy.

"It's fair to say that, technologically speaking, even five years ago extending CPT to a commercial environment would have been a major challenge. What's more, further developments in measuring and recording technology – by companies like Tru-Test and Gallagher, along with DNA parentage from Zoetis – allow us to run the programme in commercial flocks."

Over the next three years, CPT work at the lowland sites of Poukawa (Hawke's Bay) and Ashley Dene (Canterbury) will be phased out, with testing increasingly moving to commercial farms and involving significantly larger numbers of rams. The three other existing test sites – Woodlands in Southland and the hill sites of Onslow View in Central Otago and Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre in the Wairarapa – are set to continue as previously.

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