May the genes be with you

Exciting times lie ahead for commercial farmers in New Zealand, as profit-driving research and technologies like DNA profiling are ready to be tapped into by anyone who wants to lift their game.

By making use of available genetic advancements, commercial sheep farmers now have access to knowledge and data, which can economically improve their operations.  

Ram breeders, scientists, and industry professionals gather together in Dunedin recently for the first Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics sheep breeders' forum.

The two-day event in October aims to facilitate profitable genetic gains in sheep and beef through better breeding objectives, more accurate genetic evaluations, and matching genetics to end-user needs.

AbacusBio consultant Jude Sise - who spoke at the forum - told the attendees, just as all breeders are not the same, rams within their catalogue can differ in ways that are not physically visible.

"It's not until you scratch below the surface and find out about the ram's relatives and its genetic merit that you can get the full picture."

"Arriving at a ram sale with no prior preparation, and buying a few aesthetically pleasing animals to complement a few home-bred replacement rams is like tossing a coin to decide whether the flock improves, stagnates, or reverts over the next five years or more," Jude says.

Often, the ram buying exercise is not given the attention to detail it deserves. Rams are they key to flock improvement, and by utilising the information now readily available, returns can be maximised (through incremental improvements in relevant traits) in a reasonably short time, at no great cost. 

"A commercial sheep farmer gets maybe five or six chances during his tenure to make genetic change decisions that will improve his economic returns. That's because it can take up to 10 years for the selection effects to be fully realised," Dr Richard Lee of Focus Genetics says.

"Planning is crucial - in days not hours - possibly with independent external assistance, in order for a commercial farmer considering a ram breeder change to make informed and progressive decisions aimed at improving profitability."

"Ideally, the buyer should find a breeder that ticks all the boxes and that he can form a long-term relationship with."

Jude further justified in her presentation that the greatest cumulative gains could be made by buying from breeders with high merit rams and who were achieving high rates of genetic gain. This was illustrated in a schematic graph on ram buying accountancy that shows how breeders of dual purpose production rams compared.

For bigger, faster, and better genetic evaluation, SIL will be undergoing a serious upgrade. The upgrade will see pedigree, performance, and DNA information combined in a single, weekly national genetic evaluation, without the need for many smaller evaluations.

AbacusBio consultants Peter Amer and Tim Byrne are also investigating the development of breeding objectives and selection indexes that better describe farm profit in harder country.

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People involved: Jude Sise, Peter Amer, Tim Byrne