Faster affordable genetic gain

Program Leader

Professor Julius van der Werf
University of New England, Armidale (NSW)
Tel: 02 6773 2092

To read the latest Program updates click here.

About the Program

The Sheep CRC has been very successful in establishing a new capability for Australia’s sheep breeders to use genomic selection. The accuracy of using DNA data to predict breeding values is moderately high (between 0.20 and 0.50), and currently there are already well defined benefits for sheep breeders using the new technology to achieve faster genetic gain. However, further development is possible by increasing the accuracy and utility of genomic prediction. The current DNA testing (based on 50k SNP-chip data) does not allow prediction for animals that are genetically distant from the reference populations. Denser marker information, such as that provided with high-density SNP chips and full sequence information, is expected to provide a better understanding of the relationship between SNPs and functional genes. If successful, this new information will allow more widespread use of genomic predictions and maintain prediction accuracies over time.

Program Structure

The Program is conducted under two areas:.

  • R3.1 focuses on the use of full sequence genomic information to better predict breeding values for a range of animals including predictions for animals not closely linked to the Resource Flock and for minor breeds. This project will also explore options for low cost and low density genotyping and use imputation strategies to achieve the benefits of high density markers.
  • R3.2 will examine options for exploiting the use of genomic information in breeding programs and commercial flocks and work closely with breeders and consultants to ensure a high level of engagement and interaction, through knowledge transfer and practitioner feedback. 

An important component of both Projects is to develop and utilise cheaper DNA analysis systems in order to make genetic selection, based on DNA analysis, faster, more accurate and easy to implement in commercial breeding programs and production systems.


The goal of the proposed research program is to increase the reliability of genomic predictions in sheep and at the same time to reduce the cost of DNA testing to breeders. The program will also develop and investigate new designs for breeding programs to ensure that breeders capture the full benefits of the new technologies.

The ‘bio-bank’ of DNA stored from the Information Nucleus program provides an invaluable, and globally unique, resource for assessing the value of full-sequence DNA analysis.  Research on full sequence databases is a new field of science. Close collaboration with the Dairy CRC is planned, as well as with a range of international groups with expertise in this area. We expect that this work will give the ability to prioritize gene regions and gene markers to use for genomic prediction. This allows development of more targeted sets of genetic markers, optimized to predict breeding values for important traits as well as testing for other genetic traits such as polledness and recessive deleterious mutations.

Capturing the opportunities provided by the continuous developments in genotyping technology combined with an ability to use targeted subsets of genetic markers will result in DNA testing tools that are cheaper and overall more informative and accurate.

Wider adoption of these genomic tools will depend on clear value propositions and effective ways to use the information that is obtained. We will work with breeders as well as commercial producers to explore ways to best employ these new genomic technologies. We aim to explore the value of genomic testing in commercial flocks for the purpose of benchmarking. Modelling the use of genomic information in breeder and commercial flocks can identify more clearly these value propositions, and decision tools can be developed and road tested to facilitate a cost-effective implementation of genomic testing in the Australian sheep industry.


The accuracy of predicting breeding value is directly related to the rate of genetic gain. More importantly, genomic selection allows more effective selection for a wider variety of traits, particularly those difficult to measure, such as reproduction and meat quality traits.

One of the limitations of the current genomic predictions is that they are limited to use in animals of the breeds tested in the genomic Resource Flock and/or the Information Nucleus Program. A more precise method of predicting breeding values from DNA analysis is expected to increase the overall accuracy of prediction, to facilitate predictions for a wider group of animals, including those that are less closely related to the Resource Flocks, animals from smaller breeds and composites, thereby allowing a wider use of genomic selection and a reduction of the cost of maintaining Resource Flocks for future predictions.

Genomic technologies will have an impact on the profitability of the sheep industry through faster genetic gain and better use of genetically improved animals. Increasing accuracy and reducing costs will increase both usage and benefits of genomic testing and more widely the uptake of genetic evaluation services.   For new users of genetic evaluation services genetic gain will increase from $0.7/ewe/year to $2.00/ewe. Current users are expected to improve gains of $2.00 per ewe per year by 10-20%. A re-adjustment of genetic improvement toward important traits that are normally hard to measure will be critical for a sustainable breeding program.

Rapid, well balanced genetic gain creates a level of confidence in the long term future of the industry.

As DNA tests become cheaper and the prediction of breeding values becomes more accurate, there are increasing benefits associated with the effective use of the new DNA-based technology. The benefits of using DNA to predict parentage and breeding values include easier management systems at time of joining, an ability to run larger ram breeding flocks and to select and use rams at a younger age, leading to higher rates of genetic gain. Genomically benchmarking of commercial flocks creates more awareness of the value of genetically improved animals, it will assist in more informed ram buying decisions and it could be used to assort cohorts of animals in management and lamb supply chains.

Design of sheep breeding programs to capture benefits associated with the new DNA technology require interaction and engagement with breeders to overcome initial problems of early adopters and a complementary training program to ensure that the new opportunities are widely adopted and therefore contribute to significantly faster genetic gain in a wide cross section of the sheep population.

Ideas about the potential use of genomic technologies will be pilot tested in the industry and we will work with producers and breeders to assess the potential value of these genomic technologies in their businesses, and develop decision support tools to maximize the benefit of such information back to the user.


Practical Wisdom Notes / Fact Sheets

PW1.4 Parasite control in sheep

In this series:

  1. WormBoss: Australia's sheep worm control resource
  2. FlyBoss: resources for integrated flystrike control in Australian sheep
  3. LiceBoss: Australia’s sheep lice control resource

PW4.1 New Opportunities in Genetics and Genomics

In this series:

  1. Genomics and DNA testing: new tools for ram breeders to accelerate genetic gain
  2. Breeding towards a poll flock with the Sheep CRC Poll test

  3. Sheep CRC genomic test for Merinos —what are the benefits?

  4. Sheep CRC genomic test for maternal breeds —what are the benefits?

  5. Sheep CRC genomic test for terminal breeds —what are the benefits?

  6. Using Australian Sheep Breeding Values

  7. Fat and eye muscle depth in Merino breeding programs

  8. Benefits of Reproductive Technologies in  Closed Nucleus Sheep Breeding

  9. Merinotech: Strategies to achieve a 100% PP nucleus

  10.  Using selection decisions to improve ASBVs

  11. Genomic testing ram lambs helps increase rates of index genetic gain by 50% at Centre Plus

  12. Genomic testing and artificial insemination helps increase LEQ index gains138% faster than industry average – Melton Vale Poll Dorsets

Products & Training Resources

ASBV Pocket Guide

ASBVs - A guide for ram buyers

Sheep DNA Testing Information

Reports, Articles and Presentations

Building apps for the grazing livestock industry

Wednesday 22 February 2017, 3:00pm
Biological Sciences Lecture Theatre (S003)

A symposium on the development of web-based apps designed to provide information about complex grazing systems was held on 22 February 2017.  Drawing on a broad range of expertise in livestock production, soils, pastures, data science, simulation and machine learning models the apps form a natural collection point to connect science with practice.

These are the presentations from that symposium:

News Releases

RamSelect drives demand at Ella Matta ram sale
The genetic selection app RamSelect was a key plank of the promotional platform for the Ella Matta White Suffolk and Merino stud which recorded its best-ever sale results late last year. The Kangaroo Island stud recorded its highest grossing sale, its highest ever top-priced ram at $16,000, and an improved overall average of $1459 / ram, despite increasing its sale offering by more than 10% to 200 White Suffolks, 40 Poll... Click Here To Read Full Article »
MERINOSELECT now mainstream practice and growing fast
Use of the objective genetic assessment tool, Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), has grown so rapidly in the Merino industry in the last five years that close to 50% of all Merino rams are now sold by studs that are members of MERINOSELECT. Recent analysis by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) reveals that studs in MERINOSELECT now provide around half of the Merino rams used by... Click Here To Read Full Article »
DNA Flock Profile test takes gut feel out of farming
DNA testing has taken the guesswork out of breeding for Victorian sheep mixed farmer Todd Martin, who now has a clear picture of how his flock compares to the rest of the industry and the decisions he needs to make to improve its performance. Click Here To Read Full Article »
DNA Flock Profile cements the foundations for new flock
Developing a flock with the right mix of genetics can take generations to perfect, but DNA testing has put Geelong sheep and wool producer Jack Briscoe on the fast track to success. Mr Briscoe is only a year into breeding his own Merino flock after branching out from his sheep contracting business by cobbling together a mixture of 800 home-bred and yard-bought ewes as his breeding base. Click Here To Read Full Article »
Science in plain English the challenge for meat industry postgrads
The next generation of leading meat industry researchers are armed with the knack of translating complicated science into everyday language, following an industry training workshop last week. Some 24 post-graduate researchers sponsored by the Sheep CRC, Meat & Livestock Australia and Australian Pork Limited, converged in Sydney for a week-long professional development course, which featured two-days of intensive... Click Here To Read Full Article »
RamSelect keeps track of flock performance at Parkes
The RamSelect app is not only assisting with better genetic decisions for the Dunn family of Parkes, NSW, but also assisting with their inventory management and industry benchmarking activities. The Dunn family, trading as Reedy Creek Partners, operates a mixed farming enterprise between Manildra and Parkes, and has been using the app since it was first launched in 2015 to assist with their ram selections. Click Here To Read Full Article »
Faster sheep DNA testing with new Australian GeneSeek lab
Sheep breeders using DNA testing to improve their genetic selections can look forward to faster turnaround times for test results thanks to Neogen Corporation’s decision to establish a genomic testing laboratory within Australia. GeneSeek Australasia, a wholly owned subsidiary of United States-based parent company Neogen, has acquired the assets of the Animal Genetics Laboratory (AGL), based at the Gatton campus of the... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Dramatic increase in early season searches on RamSelect
Inquiry for rams through RamSelect has never been stronger with a dramatic increase in the number of buyers searching the site so far this season compared to last year. More than 1129 ram searches were conducted on RamSelect during July, compared to just 154 at the same time last year. Click Here To Read Full Article »
DNA testing to drive new era of ewe competitions
The traditional ewe competition is set to enter the innovation era with the inclusion of DNA Flock Profile tests as part of next year’s Doug Bicket Memorial Ewe trial in Parkes, NSW. The Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) will provide DNA profiling for all flocks entering the 2018 competition, currently valued at $800 plus GST per flock, as a means of supporting improved genetic selection... Click Here To Read Full Article »
RamSelect moves towards commercial business model
The popular RamSelect app will move to a commercial funding model ahead of this season’s ram sales, as a first step towards ensuring the genetic selection tool’s financial viability and availability to producers in the long-term. RamSelect Plus is an easy to use web-based application,, which allows ram buyers to find and rank rams based on Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) that match their own... Click Here To Read Full Article »
Click Here To Read More News Articles »

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