Increasing sheep genetic gain in Ireland through scientific data capture and analysis

Objective

The project aims to accelerate the rate of genetic gain in the Irish sheep industry through the application of innovative genomic technologies to commercial flock performance recording, thus increasing the productivity and profitability of the sector.

To achieve these goals, the project will: (i) Genotype sheep in flocks which are collecting phenotypes (ii) Unlock the value of these phenotypes for genetic evaluation by assigning full flock parentage (iii) Develop a model for commercial farm data capture (iv) Generate large quantities of health phenotypes for a health genetic index & (v) Investigate establishing the routine transfer of carcase data into genetic evaluations.

Project activities

  • Collection of DNA (ear biopsy) from all breeding animals in selected participating flocks (1,500 breeding ewes and rams).
  • Collection of DNA samples from all progeny born to these genotyped ewes at birth.
  • Genotyping all project animals on a high density 50K SNPchip which is custom designed for the Irish industry.
  • Collecting new phenotypes relating to health traits (lameness, dag and mastitis) and longevity traits from all project animals three times per year over the project lifespan.
  • Investigating the establishment of routine carcase data transfer from sheep processors to the national genetic evaluation database.
  • Developing data collection protocols for health and longevity phenotypes.

Context of this project

The rate of genetic gain within the Irish sheep industry is being hindered by the lack of known animal parentage and phenotypes (performance records) available on Irish commercial sheep farmers. Capturing phenotypes on animals with unknown ancestry has limited capacity to add long-term improvement to productivity. Only when parentage is known can the true power of these phenotypes be unlocked by linking and comparing the performance of entire bloodlines – through Ireland’s national sheep genetic evaluations.

Expected results and practical recommendations from the OviData Project are:

  • Increasing the rate of national genetic gain for the benefit of all Irish sheep farmers through the generation of high value phenotypes which can be used for the purpose of national genetic evaluations.
  • Generation of approximately 15,000 sheep genotypes over the lifetime of OviData on highly informative commercial sheep which will unlock a huge range of valuable phenotypes for inclusion in the national sheep genetic evaluations.
  • Generation of health phenotypes of use for genetic evaluation on all participating animals which will serve to build and maintain a new health genetic index for Irish sheep farmers, leading to a long term sustainable strategy to reduce key health issues namely lameness, dagginess and mastitis.
  • Generation of large quantities of carcase records which are of use for genetic evaluation as a result of known parentage.
  • Development and testing of an alternative model for large scale parentage assignment and phenotype collection for other Irish commercial farmers in the future.
  • Development of standard phenotype collection protocols for health and longevity traits and subsequent training of data collection technicians and participating farmers.

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