Another first for Irish sheep genetic improvement

Over the past number of weeks Sheep Ireland have been circulating Parentage Verification results to pedigree ram breeders that participated in the OVIGEN sheep genomics research project, which Sheep Ireland is involved in partnership with Teagasc and UCD.

OVIGEN has now genotyped over 13,500 Irish pedigree sheep across a number of breeds. OVIGEN is a four year research programme which has now entered its third year. In year one and two the programme offered Irish performance recording flocks the opportunity to genotype their pedigree ewes for free. These sheep will form the ‘reference population’ for Ireland’s first genomic breeding values which will be integrated into €uroStar evaluations in 2018. Test proofs of these genomic breeding values will be circulated to Irish ram breeders in 2017.

What sheep can be parentage verified?

From the 13,500 sheep which have been genotyped so far, it has been possible to verify the parentage of a large proportion of sheep which are related within this group (mainly the younger sheep). Unfortunately for the older sheep within this group, it is not possible to verify parentage as the DNA of their parents is simply not available.

By genotyping the breeding female and males in pedigree flocks, breeders can easily verify the parentage of lambs born on farm going forward. The large initial cost of genotyping the adult animals has been removed. In 2017 the genotyping of younger animals born into the flock will be offered at a subsidised cost. This paves the way for more accurate genetic evaluations and will give more confidence to pedigree ram breeders and commercial sheep farmers when purchasing breeding stock at sales.

Parentage Reports and what happens next

Sheep Ireland is currently developing an online system for LambPlus ram breeders to view the DNA and genotype status of sheep in their flocks. It will also be possible to order DNA sampling tags and genotypes for sheep in their flock. Until these screens are developed, parentage reports have been circulated to all OVIGEN participants.