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Research impact highlights - Sheep

A window into genetics

Nóirín McHugh, Fiona McGovern, Nicola Fetherstone and Henry Walsh

Across species, more than 50% of productivity gains can be associated with improvements in the genetic merit of animals. Sheep production in both New Zealand and Ireland is operated predominately on grass-based, seasonal and export-focused systems, which is also reflected by the similarity in the national genetic indexes of both countries.

The INZAC (Ireland New Zealand Animal Comparison) flock was established at Teagasc Athenry in 2015 to investigate the potential impact on national genetic and economic gains, through the selection of high or low genetic merit sheep of New Zealand or Irish origin. It acts as a focal flock for the industry and highlights the role of genetic indexes to aid producers in making more informed breeding decisions which can increase the productivity, efficiency and profitability of the national sheep flock.

Regardless of country of origin, animals of high genetic merit demonstrated a superior performance across a range of traits, including the total number of lambs weaned per ewe, days to drafting and ewe milk yield. Ewes of high genetic merit weaned an extra 39 lambs per 100 ewes mated, and such lambs had a greater likelihood of being sold earlier than those born from low genetic merit ewes. Overall, farm profitability was higher for high genetic merit animals, with the high Irish system producing an additional €41 per ha net profit.

Correspondence: noirin.mchugh@teagasc.ie
Other contributors: Sheep Ireland and University College Dublin.
Funding: Teagasc grant-in-aid.