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Texel Genomic Breeding Value Research to be Showcased at ScotSheep

27 May 2016

UK - Sheep farmers attending next week's Scotsheep 2016 at Blythbank farm, West Linton, will be able to learn about the early results from ground breaking genomic research undertaken by the British Texel Sheep Society.

It is fortuitous that these early stage results are being showcased at Blyth Bank, said Texel Sheep Society chief executive John Yates, with the farm having been the quarantine farm for the first Texels imported in the country more than 40 years ago.

“Those first Texel importations were driven by innovative farmers looking to provide a novel solution to industry problems of their day, notably the desire for leaner carcasses with greater conformation.

“The work being done by the Society today with genomics is very much a continuation of that pioneering outlook and once again seeks to provide commercial farmers with tools and a modern breed to help them run more efficient, sustainable sheep businesses,” he added.

“The research, which has initially focussed on health traits, has delivered meaningful results.

"Although the initial 18 month project data collection runs until August, the early outcomes are encouraging, which will help support a new platform for delivery of genomic breeding values from the Society, the first to be available in the UK sheep industry.

“When we started this project we believed it would result in important developments for both the breed and the UK sheep industry and the results to date bear this out, supporting the development of our genomic reference population. This is a valuable resource for the Society allowing for new services and new research opportunities.”

Mr Yates said that once the full results had been collated and analysed this Autumn the development of genomic estimated breeding values (gEBVs) would follow. “gEBVs are calculated differently to conventional EBVs. Traditionally EBVs have been based on measured performance on farm and within a contemporary group.

"However, gEBVs are calculated by using the animals DNA and comparing the individual to the large genomic reference population developed by the Texel Society. The critical link is the SNP key which allows a genomic value to be calculated; by using the animal’s DNA, the reference population and the specific trait measurements.

“This enables the prediction of an animal’s breeding merit and its ideally suited for traits that are often hard to measure, such as udder and foot health or carcass quality.

“The calculation of gEBVs does though rely on the continued collection of data from a wide section of the population, something the Texel Sheep Society will be undertaking through its network of pedigree phenotyping farms across the UK," explained Mr Yates.

The economic and welfare impacts of both mastitis and footrot on the industry cannot be overstated, with estimates suggesting each case of footrot costs more than £8/ewe, with further lost productivity costs amounting to up to £3/ewe, he said.

“Additionally, it is believed that the industry loses 7-12 per cent of breeding ewes across all types of breeds a year due to intramammary infections. Both of these conditions can also cause significant welfare issue for affected sheep, something every farmer wants to avoid.”

As with all diseases, prevention is far better than cure, but due to the environmentally infective nature of both these diseases, prevention can be difficult, particularly in the case of mastitis, he said.

With Texel sired ewes making up more than 12.5 per cent of the national flock and more than 30 per cent of sires used the impact of the breed commercially is second to none, he added. “As a result the potential impact of this research is worth millions of pounds for the industry and will give significant benefit to commercial producers across the UK and, potentially, through the ever increasing number of exports, sheep industries across the globe.”

Mr Yates concluded: “The growing importance of the maternal role of Texel genetics in the UK sheep flock indicates there may be further opportunities for economic and genetic gain for the breed, through an increased focus on maternal ewe traits for breed improvement in the future. These are exciting times for Texel breeders, with access to the latest breeding tools and a clear focus of support and development available from the Society.”

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