Understanding Genetics

Photo: Errol Brumpton uses ASBVs for the modern sheep (Courtesy Qld Country Life)
Photo: Errol Brumpton uses ASBVs for the modern sheep (Courtesy Qld Country Life)

Genetics is the knowledge of how genes affect the way an animal looks or performs. It includes ‘heritability’, which describes how much of a trait is passed on from the parent to the offspring and ‘correlation’, which explains how one trait is related to another.

A wealth of genetics knowledge already exists and allows us to predict the performance of progeny, based on the performance of their sire or dam and other relatives.

The genetic merit of sheep and their estimated breeding values are predicted by directly measuring the performance of traits at particular times or by using indirect measures of a trait, that is, information about other traits that are related to the trait in which we are interested.

However, a sheep’s own performance is the result of both its genetics and the ‘environment’. The important environmental influences include nutrition, climate, diseases and parasites, whether the animal was a single or twin, whether its dam was a mature ewe or a maiden, its sex, its age relative to its flock mates and other factors about how the animal was managed.

To predict the performance of a sheep’s progeny based on its genetics, we need to exclude the environmental factors. Also, to increase the accuracy of this information we include performance data from its relatives: its sire and dam, siblings and half-sibs (i.e. brothers and sisters and half-brothers and half-sisters) as well as other relatives, especially the individual’s own progeny.

The result calculated is the ‘estimated breeding value’. For sheep in Australia, this is calculated and published as an Australian Sheep Breeding Value (ASBV) in LAMBPLAN (for meat sheep breeds) or MERINOSELECT (for Merinos). When ASBVs are calculated they also incorporate all that is known about the heritability of a trait and the correlations it has with other traits.

ASBVs are more accurate than using the raw measurement from a trait, especially for traits that have lower heritabilities, a smaller range of expression or lower accuracy of measurement. ASBVs also allow unrelated animals from different studs under different management conditions to be compared objectively.

ASBVs are only available for sheep when performance data has been collected using procedures outlined in the Sheep Genetics’ Quality Assurance Manual. Many sheep studs provide ASBVs for a range of traits on each of their sheep.

The Sheep CRC conducts genetic research through its Information Nucleus. This is a group of 8 flocks located across Australia, using many breeds and diverse industry sires to:

  • Establish new traits eg. Intra Muscular Fat and Shear Force (tenderness)
  • Develop genomic (DNA) tests for expensive or difficult to  measure traits
  • Improve the knowledge about genetic parameters
  • Expand the performance data across more bloodlines
  • Increase the availability and accuracy of Australian Sheep Breeding Values.


Choose from the tabs below to find more detailed information.


Practical Wisdom Notes / Fact Sheets

PW4.1 New Opportunities in Genetics and Genomics

Products & Training Resources

ASBV Pocket Guide

Australian Sheep Breeding Values - A guide for ram buyers

Marketing your sheep with genetic data

Reports, Articles and Presentations

Getting Started with Sheep Genetics

Sheep CRC Genomics Breakfast Workshop - LambEx 2012

News Releases

Ram team recording drives improvements for Kangaroo Island flock
Keeping detailed and accurate ram team records has driven a flock transformation for Kangaroo Island Merino breeder Keith Bolto and proved why the new features offered on the RamSelect Plus app are a winner for commercial producers. About a decade ago the Bolto family began selecting rams for use in their flock, based on objective measurement information, and about five years ago began performance recording their own rams... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/ram-team-recording-drives-improvements-for-kangaroo-island-flock-12-12-2016.php
Tech-savvy students drive Farrer High to the top of RamSelect
Listing their catalogue via the RamSelect Plus app has showcased the value of early adoption of new breeding technologies and opened new markets for the students at Farrer Memorial Agricultural High School. Based in Tamworth NSW, the school’s agriculture subject offering includes a Year 9 and 10 ‘animal management course’, in which students take on the tasks associated with running the Farrer White Suffolk stud. Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/techsavvy-students-drive-farrer-high-to-the-top-of-ramselect-05-12-2016.php
DNA Flock Profiler responds to producers needs
Breaking down a perception-driven market with objective genetic data was the impetus for sheep breeders Andrew and Barbara Read to conceive an idea which has now been realised in the form of the Sheep CRC’s DNA Flock Profile test. The Reads, from "Oak Hills", Nangus, NSW, first approached Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe two years ago at a producer field day with the idea of developing a DNA test to profile the genetic... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/dna-flock-profiler-responds-to-producers-needs-15-11-2016.php
Sheep researchers star on international stage
The next generation of red meat researchers are being inspired by the success of the sheep industry’s stable of young scientists who are starring on the world stage. Five Murdoch University scientists were recently chosen to deliver oral presentations, all linked to research they are conducting through the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC), at the recent International Symposium on Energy... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/sheep-researchers-star-on-international-stage-04-11-2016.php
Breeding for flystrike resistance to be made easier
Genetic research into the heritability of flystrike susceptibility in sheep, and its expression in different operating environments, is set to be incorporated into new tools to assist breeders make more informed selection and flock management decisions. Tracie Bird-Gardiner, from the NSW Department of Primary Industries, has spent the last four years collecting and analysing data from fly-struck sheep in the industry’s... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/breeding-for-flystrike-resistance-to-be-made-easier-24-10-2016.php
Commercial Merino producers - opportunity for DNA pilot project
Commercial Merino producers have the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of DNA research by participating in a pilot trial of the new Flock Profiling Test from the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC). The Sheep CRC will provide support for up to 100 Merino producers to define the genetic merit of their flocks. The profiling test involves randomly sampling 20 young ewes for DNA testing. Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/commercial-merino-producers--opportunity-for-dna-pilot-project-10-10-2016.php
Understanding why farmers are pressing the app buttons
Despite the proliferation of new technology in agriculture, very little is known about the effectiveness of these new tools in improving primary productivity and adoption of new practices. A new research project from the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) will evaluate the use of smartphone apps in the industry and producer attitudes towards these tools, in order to ensure future tools and... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/understanding-why-farmers-are-pressing-the-app-buttons-22-09-2016.php
Ram team records unlock the secrets to better breeding
Keeping accurate records of his ram teams has allowed South Gippsland second-cross lamb producer Paul O’Sullivan to benchmark his business against industry averages and to refine his genetic selections to take flock productivity to the next level. Mr O’Sullivan was impressed by the benchmarking capabilities of the new RamSelect Plus app when it was launched at LambEx by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/ram-team-records-unlock-the-secrets-to-better-breeding-16-09-2016.php
Sheep breeders rush to RamSelect Plus
Sheep breeders are embracing RamSelect Plus in droves, with close to 4000 rams from 60 different studs listed on the site since the start of July. And there are already over twice the number of registered users than there were at the end of the 2015 ram-selling season. Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said the early-season figures were a strong endorsement of the need for easy-to-use applications that provide personalised... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/sheep-breeders-rush-to-ramselect-plus-29-08-2016.php
UNE app development team leads the way for the sheep industry
The team behind the popular web-based app RamSelect Plus is already turning its attention to finding new solutions to the data challenges facing the sheep industry. The next project on the cards for the University of New England (UNE) Agile App team is to develop an early intervention sheep management app for the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) so that producers can ensure all animals in... Click Here To Read Full Article » http://www.sheepcrc.org.au/information/news/une-app-development-team-leads-the-way-for-the-sheep-industry-22-08-2016.php
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