A syndicate of leading Australian Poll Dorset breeders is adopting large-scale DNA testing to identify breeding animals carrying genes for tenderness and eating quality in order to guarantee customer satisfaction.
Meat Elite Australia is one of nine stud breeding operations participating in commercial-scale DNA trials being conducted as part of the Genomics Pilot Project being run by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC).
More than 1500 DNA tests have been allocated for use by these early-adopting studs, with a further 1500 tests allocated for smaller-scale testing by sheep breeders across the country as part of the research program aimed at defining the most effective use of the new technologies in practical breeding programs.
"Until now we haven’t been able to measure meat eating quality unless we slaughter the animal, which of course ends its breeding potential," said Meat Elite spokesman Dale Price, of Majardah Poll Dorsets, Glencoe, SA.
"Fortunately through the use of genomics we can now gain an understanding of the potential an animal has in the areas of yield, intra muscular fat, sheer force (a measure of meat tenderness) and ultimately meat eating quality while it is still alive.
"Even better, this information can be accessed virtually at birth giving us the potential to speed up genetic gain by reducing generational intervals."
Meat Elite is a collaborative group of 19 Poll Dorset breeders spread across Australia. Members Roger and Dianne Trewick, Pepperton Poll Dorset Stud, Elmore, Victoria; Rodney Watt, Felix Poll Dorsets Greenthorpe, NSW; George Carter, Linton Poll Dorsets, Walcha NSW, and Mr Price represented the group at a recent meeting in Sydney with the Sheep CRC, Sheep Genetics, and the eight other large-scale stud breeding operations involved in the trials.
The workshop was organised to allocate the 1500 genomics tests, for which the breeders will pay $50 per test. Each test will provide valuable genetic data for a range of traits.
It is expected that the accuracy levels of research breeding values (RBVs) and Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) will further improve as a result of the additional data collected during the Genomics Pilot Project and through the Information Nucleus program.
These breeding values can be used by breeders in predicting which rams will produce the desired traits in their progeny, assisting in earlier selection and delivering faster improvements to the genetic make-up of Australia’s sheep flocks.
It is believed that genomically testing of around 20% of a stud’s top young rams will provide valuable information to assist selection decisions for the next generation.
"Meat Elite members currently use ASBVs to improve growth rates, muscling and worm resistance in their terminal sires," Mr Price said. "With the addition of DNA testing, we are positioning our group for the next level of improvements and a bright future in the lamb industry. The CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation is co-funded under the Commonwealth Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program Transforming wool, meat and the sheep that produce them
"Meat Elite Australia will now undertake a rigorous search of flocks to identify sheep that are likely to offer excellent meat eating qualities for further analysis using the genomics tests allocated."
However, Mr Price said it was vital for industry to support on-going field calibration of the data generated through DNA testing.
"Beyond two generations the quality of ASBVs will start to dip without this ongoing checking process. Post 2014 there will need to be reference flocks which are carefully managed to provide high quality data that will ensure ASBVs assigned via genomics tests are accurate.
"Additionally it is important to note that the bigger the reference flock the greater the accuracies achieved."
Mr Price said Meat Elite Australia flocks, as well as other privately owned flocks, could play a role as a reference flock service because of the accuracy of data collected by members and the linkage that exists between flocks.
However, industry as a whole would need to consider ways of recognising this important role of leading studs providing accurate information to improve the accuracy of genetic predictions, he said.
With the cost of DNA testing continuing to fall, the Sheep CRC is working with Sheep Genetics to develop details for commercialisation of genomic technologies in the sheep industry.