Breeders ‘joining off their own bat validates Sheep Ireland’

The increase in sheep breeders joining the Sheep Ireland initiative of their own accord, without any direct industry incentive, validates the scheme as a whole, sheep farmers heard today.

Dr. Tim Byrne, a representative of New Zealand-based agri-business consultancy firm, AbacusBio, spoke today (Wednesday, December 5) at the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) and Sheep Ireland Genetics Conference 2018.

The conference, which was held in Athlone, was partially devoted to reviewing the progress of Sheep Ireland, which has been up-and-running for 10 years.

Probably the most encouraging thing, though, is this final phase, where there was no direct industry incentive or motivation to join the scheme, other than breeders’ own desire to be involved.

Dr. Byrne said: “The efforts of Sheep Ireland to-date have actually demonstrated value; breeders see value in the scheme and they’re joining off their own bat.”

This, he added, has resulted in a significant rise in the amount of data that Sheep Ireland has to work with.

But the big story, according to Dr. Byrne, comes from the changes in the replacement index since the advent of Sheep Ireland.

Leading up to 2013, there was a steady decline in maternal performance of sheep in Ireland. That, in part, was driven by the focus on terminal traits, and some of those challenges related to small flocks; they all contributed to difficulty in making genetic progress for maternal traits.

“In 2013, that declining replacement index was reversed, and right now it’s going at about 12c/year, which is really good progress,” he said.

He highlighted that, since 2013, the maternal sub-index of the replacement index has not only stopped declining, but is also showing a slight but noticeable upward trend – something Dr. Byrne said other industries have not been able to achieve very easily.