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Texels Drive Genetic Innovation in UK Sheep Industry

30 October 2014

UK - Tackling one of the UK sheep industry’s most underestimated health problems, mastitis, will be easier in future thanks to pioneering new research being undertaken by the British Texel sheep Society (BTSS) in collaboration with SRUC.

Thanks to a £450,000 project award from the Technology Strategy Board, BTSS will be using the very latest genomic technology to investigate the role of genetics in controlling the disease.

BTSS chief executive John Yates said the unique research, which would be conducted across both pedigree and commercial flocks the length and breadth of the UK, was designed to identify those bloodlines that are more resistant to mastitis.

“Mastitis is without doubt one of the least understood and most costly health problems faced by the sheep sector, with reports suggesting it affects about five per cent of breeding ewes. There are very few treatment options and currently no effective preventative treatments.

“Crucially, like many other diseases, mastitis has a genetic component to resistance. Using the very latest genome screening techniques the research will identify bloodlines of sheep that are more resistant to mastitis.”

Mr Yates said the research was the first step in the Society’s quest to better understand a number of key diseases affecting UK sheep producers and identify those animals with greater genetic resistance to them.

“The project will create a valuable enhancement to the Society’s dataset by including disease phenotypes. Initially this will focus on mastitis, but the intention is to include additional traits such as footrot and faecal egg counts.

“The availability of new genomic ‘SNP chip’ technology for sheep that is specific to mastitis and tailored for use in the Texel breed will propel the Society and its breeders in to the genomic era,” he explained.

“Using genomics to identify those bloodlines resistant to key diseases will enable breeders to pursue breeding objectives allied to the requirements of the commercial sheep producers, combining key productivity and health traits in their future breeding plans.

Importantly, due to the Texel breed’s extensive influence on the UK sheep industry the results of this research will be felt widely across the sheep sector. “There are more than 1.6m Texel sired breeding

ewes in the national flock, representing more than 12 per cent of all ewes, and 27 per cent of all rams used in the UK are Texels.

“Therefore, the potential influence from this and future disease resistance research on the wider industry is beyond comparison in the sheep sector. The benefits of these genomic breeding advances will quickly be felt by those commercial producers placing Texels at the heart of their flocks,” added Mr Yates.

Joanne Conington who is leading the research at SRUC, said the project would implement the first commercially-available genomic breeding values for mastitis resistance in meat sheep in Europe.

“Genomic breeding values will improve the accuracy of selection of sheep more resistant to mastitis, and in the future, enable farmers to select future male breeding stock without having to wait for their daughters to become lactating ewes to generate data on mastitis.

“Genomic technology is particularly attractive for use in sheep for such characteristics that are only expressed in females such as maternal traits or for disease and meat quality traits because they are typically difficult or expensive to measure.”

Further Reading

Find out more information on Mastitis by clicking here.

TheSheepSite News Desk

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