Genetic Evaluation of Irish Sheep Flock

After an industry decline saw the number of breeding ewes in Ireland drop from 4.3 million in 1997 to 2.7 million ten years later, AbacusBio teamed up with the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) and Sheep Ireland to implement a new breeding strategy.

With the goal of increasing maternal efficiency and reducing costs to raise profitability, AbacusBio’s Tim Byrne, Peter Amer and Peter Fennessy brought a suite of improvements to the Irish industry.

The key to the strategy was to increase performance recording, combined with state-of-the-art genetic evaluation and innovative breeding schemes. Whereas sheep farmers in Ireland had used limited objective genetic information in the past, AbacusBio’s approach was to increase the range of traits being recorded and provide profit-based measures so that the industry could understand – and capture – the value of genetic improvement.

AbacusBio coupled this with a national central progeny test to identify rams that delivered gains in ewe performance, and the creation of maternal lamb producer (MALP) groups to feed commercial data back to a central evaluation database. The strategy also fostered breeder networks that swapped animals to create ‘genetic links’, allowing comparisons of rams across different flocks and breeds.

Integration was critical, with the new performance recording scheme supported by protocols and systems developed by AbacusBio to manage data capture, and linked to Ireland’s existing national animal identification scheme.

AbacusBio provides on-going development and technical support to ICBF and Sheep Ireland, and is expanding into dairy and beef breeding initiatives.