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British Texel sheep genetics

The British Texel Sheep Society commissioned AbacusBio to conduct an economic impact study and a survey to provide knowledge about the Texel breed and support new research initiatives.

Tim Byrne, Peter Amer, and Tom Kirk carried out an analysis of genetic trends in performance-recorded and non-recorded Texel flocks, and the scale of use of the breed in commercial flocks.

The economic benefits arising from use of the Texel breed were estimated for the period from 1996 to 2015, along with future benefits up to 2035.

The study found that both maternal and terminal index trends approximately doubled between 1995 to 1999 and 2010 to 2014 in recorded flocks, and more than doubled in non-recorded flocks.

The absolute rate of genetic gain in recorded flocks remains higher than that of non-recorded flocks.

“The annual increase in the maternal index genetic trend is driven almost entirely by the gains in terminal traits,”Tom explains.

“This applies to both performance-recorded and non-recorded trends.”

At the same time, an increasing trend is apparent in the proportion of Texel rams used to breed replacements.

In 2015, an estimated 56% of Texel rams used were rams from which replacements were retained, while in 1996 this figure was 30%.

“The growing importance of the maternal role of Texel genetics in the UK sheep flock indicates there may be further opportunities for economic gain, through an increased focus on maternal ewe traits for breed improvement in the future,” Tim says.

Historical financial benefits of genetic improvement from the use of the Texel breed have been significant, amounting to £197 million between 1996 and2015.

The benefits can be attributed to a combination of an increasing genetic trend, increased use of rams from pedigree-registered flocks (as opposed to rams from commercial flocks), and increased use of Texel rams to breed replacements. Future financial benefits of genetic improvement from the use of the Texel breed are predicted to be significant as well, amounting to £244million between 2016 and 2035.

A survey targeted at British Texel sheep breeders, gathered views on the current and future use of the breed, strengths and weaknesses, selection criteria, and future trait improvement priorities.

Terminal traits were clearly regarded as strengths of the Texel breed. The most highly regarded strength of the Texel breed was shown to be carcass meat yield (for 96% of respondents), followed by growth rate (87%), lamb vigour and survival (86%), and the ability to differentiate between breed type in the live market (85%).

In terms of selection criteria, some 56% of respondents considered health status to be extremely important, followed by ram structural traits that affect functionality (50% of respondents), saleability of offspring based on visual criteria (39%), and traits that define correct breed type (37%).

An overwhelming majority of respondents (85%) agreed that there should be a greater focus on maternal traits, to assist in developing specific genetic lines of the Texel breed for the future.

Taken together, the economic analysis and survey outcomes give clear guidance to the British Texel Society about research priorities in the future.