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Five-fold increase in demand for sheep DNA parentage tests

Monday 20th of January 2014

Sheep breeders are rapidly adopting new DNA-based breeding tools, with the number of parentage tests sold to producers increasing by more than 550% over the last four months of 2013.

Some 5,047 tests were conducted from September to December last year, with a further 4000 tests ordered during that period and yet to be sent back for analysis – a total of 9047 tests, which is up from 1640 tests conducted in the same period in 2012.

Sheep CRC chief executive James Rowe said the $17 parentage test had been particularly useful to breeders using syndicate mating as it could quickly, cheaply and accurately update their flock pedigree records.

“Knowing parentage when selecting breeding stock is vital to maximising the rate of genetic improvement in a flock because it gives breeders a clearer picture of the genetic make-up of young animals when breeders are in the process of selecting rams and ewes for future joining,” Prof. Rowe said.

Operating as part of the Federal Department of Research’s CRC program, the Sheep CRC is a collaboration of industry, government and the commercial sector. It is working to increase productivity and profitability of the industry through new technologies for adoption by both the meat and wool supply chains.

Prof. Rowe said the parentage test can be used for ‘full pedigree’ – that is linking a lamb to both its ewe and sire – as well as paternal parentage only, which matches progeny to the rams used in syndicate matings.

He said many breeders were using the parentage test as the first step in pre-selecting best breeding stock for full genotype testing prior to the final mating decisions.

“With autumn joining just around the corner, we are anticipating strong demand in coming weeks for the genotyping test as it provides a detailed analysis of the key genetic traits of each individual animal to ensure they can be joined appropriately to maximise the productivity of the next drop of lambs,” Prof. Rowe said.

Genotype testing is particularly useful in providing sheep breeders with information about genetic merit for traits that are normally not measured or that can’t be measured until later in life such as meat tenderness and adult fleece characteristics.

The predictions based on DNA analysis are used in conjunction with conventional measurement of performance and pedigree to produce Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), that accurately forecast which rams and ewes will breed the most productive lambs, thereby accelerating the rate of improvement in their flock.

Unlike previous years, when trials of the CRC’s ground-breaking DNA testing meant there was a cap on the availability of the genotyping tests, there is now unlimited availability of the $50 genotyping test.

“Breeders looking to take advantage of the information provided by the genotype test at autumn joining should remember there cab be up to a 10-week turnaround from the time of sampling to the results being delivered,” Prof. Rowe said.

The 12K Genotyping test is available for the four major breeds – Merino, Poll Dorset, White Suffolk and Border Leicester at a cost of $50 (plus GST).

Genotype testing and predictions draw on information in the Sheep Genetics database and animals for testing need to be entered into either the LAMBPLAN OR MERINOSELECT databases with a minimum of sire pedigree recorded.

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