Kevin McDermott of Sheep Ireland spoke about setting the sheep sector up for the future at the ICBF & Sheep Ireland Genetics Conference which took place Friday 17th of January 2020 in the Heritage Hotel, Killenard, Co. Laois.
The presentation can be found here
Some of Kevins’ take home messages include:
- Setting up a centralised sheep database that is managed by a non-profit organisation is what makes Ireland unique and gives us a great foundation to build upon in the next phase of Sheep Ireland
- We now have one of the largest banks of 50K sheep genotypes in the world and we now need to ensure we see value on that return for the industry
- Our next goal is to encourage more commercial farmers build performance recording into their business’s, and we have started to do this by removing barriers (LambPlus App) and increasing the rewards (Management reports) to ultimately increase efficiency and profit.
The effort of collecting data in the sheep industry can by laborious and costly, weather it is the parentage information on lambs for a breed society, collecting weights for performance recording, genotyping animals for major genes such as scrapie or collecting data on new research traits. In order to maximize the value of each piece of data collected it is vital that it can be linked to as many other pieces of information as possible, and the best way to do this is with a centralised database. Before Sheep Ireland, all of the above scenarios were sitting on separate databases meaning that cost of the data collection would be comparable, however the rewards were significantly less.
With all recognised flockbooks hosted in Ireland now hosted on the Sheep Ireland database, all performance recording data, the national genotyping programme and any new Teagasc Breeding research now sitting in the same place, huge progress has been made in bringing the industry together.
We now have an excellent structure in place for commercial flocks to allow them to performance record their flock and receive flock management reports, including mating, pregnancy, lambing, weights, health and much more. Performance recording is not just about collecting data for generating genetic indexes, its also about generating reports to help make better decisions around feeding, health and culling.
Since 2013/2014, we have started to make significant genetic gain in comparison to the previous decade, and we only expect this rate of gain to continue increasing in the next few years as we introduce more accurate evaluations and a greater emphasis being placed on €uroStars by breeders when selecting rams and replacement females. We are now at the point that the Irish bred stock rams are clearly producing more profitable off-spring for the Irish Industry than their imported foreign counterparts, and we need to do more to encourage the use of high indexed, Irish breed rams.
One of the strong features of the LambPlus Programme over the past four years has been in the introduction of the Data Quality Index (DQI). This index helps breeders to identify areas where they can improve their performance recording and scores the flock based on its data quality they have collected over the previous year. It also helps farmers identify which breeders are most committed to genetic gain. What we are now seeing that flocks with DQIs above 80% have made almost twice the level of genetic gain in the past 4 years compared to flocks with a DQI between 30% & 50%.
Over the coming years, the main focus must remain to be the collection of good quality data into the Sheep Ireland database and to increase the awareness and confidence that commercial farmers place in the €uroStars in order to drive to demand, and ultimately sustainable genetic gain.