sil flock connectedness tool

SIL flock connectedness tool

In order to make accurate genetic comparisons across flocks in New Zealand, a strong genetic connectedness must exist between those flocks. AbacusBio Consultant Bram Visser, has been working with Dr Mark Young, from Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL), to develop a new tool to better show ram breeders the “connectedness” of their flocks.

Maintaining connectedness is important to the wider sheep industry, because it affects the rate at which genetic gain can be made.

Genetic connectedness between flocks is created and maintained by using link sires. When link sires have progeny in multiple flocks, they connect or link those flocks: the more progeny, the stronger the connectedness. SIL Advanced Central Evaluation (SIL-ACE) programme has a requirement that participating flocks meet a minimal connectedness standard for genetic information to be reported. Bram says that essentially this is because “the more connected, or well-linked sires are, the more trustworthy the ranking of their performance is”.

Bram developed a novel way to present the connectedness values visually, in order to make it easier to assess a flock’s status and encourage breeders to strengthen connectivity across the industry. The new tool transforms the results of the connectedness algorithm into an easily recognisable traffic light colour code: red represents a weak; orange an adequate; and green a strong degree of connectedness. Bram says that “breeders can see at a glance which traits of flocks need attention, and employ link sires to increase the connectedness where it is weak”.

“It takes a while before a breeder can see results of improving connectedness in their flocks, because they have to wait for new lambs to be born,” he says. So another feature of this new tool is trend prediction. The tool has the ability to warn breeders before a flock becomes disconnected for a trait. Using smiley faces, an empty cell means strong connectedness, a neutral face and an unhappy face mean that the flock will lose connectedness in two and one years, respectively, if no action is taken.

Dr Young says: “with the new reporting tool, we will be able to more easily match and strengthen across flock connectedness. This will increase the breadth of the genetic landscape over which we can validly compare merit of sheep. Ultimately this will increase the rate of genetic gain that breeders achieve.”

Bram agrees: “with this tool we hope to get breeders more involved in creating and maintaining connectedness, so we can keep increasing the rate of genetic progress.”