Five things sheep breeders can look forward to...

Sheep breeders got a glimpse into the near future at Sheep Genetics’ annual Leading Breeder Conference – and the grass looks pretty green.

Shaun the Sheep, self-willed star of the eponymous British stop-motion animated spin-off of the Wallace and Gromit franchise), would be excited by what's in store for breeders in coming years, says industry body Sheep Genetics.
Shaun the Sheep, self-willed star of the eponymous British stop-motion animated spin-off  series from the Wallace and Gromit franchise, would be excited by what's in store for sheep and their breeders in coming years, as showcased at the 2015 Leading Breeder Conference, a gathering of experts hosted by key industry body Sheep Genetics.
Wiki Commons

Here are five things sheep breeders, seedstock producers (and, arguably, sheep) can look forward to in coming years:

1. New breeding values

Dr Janelle Hocking Edwards of the South Australia Research & Development Institute (SARDI), who’s been selectively breeding for eating quality and lean meat yield (LMY) at 20 Producer Demonstration Sites, found a significant negative association between eating quality and LMY. Putting pressure on selection for increasing LMY, she told conference delegates, results in decreased eating quality - an important trait for ensuring continuing consumer demand for the end product. Ram breeders and lamb producers will be happy to note that new breeding values for eating-quality traits should soon enable them to control this key set of traits.

Paddock of sheep with lamb: the seedstock for tougher ewes with higher weaning rates is on the way, said experts at the 2015 Leading Breeder conference hosted by key industry body Sheep Breeders.
The seedstock for tougher ewes with better weaning rates is on the way, said experts at the 2015 Leading Breeder conference hosted by key industry body Sheep Breeders.
CSIRO

2. Tougher ewes

At the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit at University of New England (UNE), researchers have been selecting for ewes that can continue to produce under tough conditions, based on numbers of lambs weaned (NBW). Given Australia’s highly variable climate, suggested UNE researcher Sam Walkom-Brown, producers should consider developing ‘robust’ flocks of ewes to boost productivity. The good news? Seedstock for hardier ewes should hit the market in the near future.

3. Precision mating

The tedious, time-consuming process of working out sheep mating regimes ‘on paper’ will soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new precision joining tool, MateSel, developed by UNE’s Brian Kinghorn and launched by NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) in late March 2015.

The new tool, part of the BREEDPLAN suite, crunches a flock's data and creates a suggested mating list based on the given group of candidate sires and dams. Armed with a 'precision mating list', farmers will be able to optimise mating allocations objectively to reflect their breeding goals, manage inbreeding and create long-term, sustainable genetic gains.  

Stud rams like this one will be matched with the best possible ewes to optimise taste and quality, and other breeding goals with the help of the new MateSel precision mating tool.
Stud rams will be matched with the best possible ewes to optimise taste and quality, and other breeding goals with the help of the new MateSel precision mating tool.
CSIRO

The tool will also help producers breed for better taste - essential, says Sheep Genetics Manager Hamish Chandler, if they're to satisfy increasingly discerning high-end consumers.

“Now is the time for our leading breeders to start including eating quality traits into their breeding programs to maintain the consumer's opinion of lamb over coming years,” contended Chandler at the conference.

“Processors want to start using technology to measure eating quality as soon as possible, and we now have the tools available to select animals for improved eating quality traits.”

MateSel will be available after a series of training workshops in May.

4. Better tools for measuring eating quality

The next generation of meat standards (MSA) for sheepmeat will combine yield and eating quality, said Dr Graham Gardner of Murdoch University's School of Veterinary and Life Sciences. And producers will have help in meeting the new MSA thanks to new hyperspectral imaging technology from Danish researchers that promises to enable eating-quality measurements to be collected from carcases, principally via intramuscular fat (IMF).

5. Higher prices for premium seedstock

Breeders and producers of high-quality seedstock, get set to profit. Producers should be planning now for the time when price signals around eating quality begin to flow along the value chain, urged David Rutley, Lamb Supply Chain Coordinator at processor Thomas Foods International.

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