‘Sheep genomic testing too important to let fall by the wayside’

As part of the OVIGEN sheep genomics research project, over 13,000 pedigree sheep had genomic evaluations completed since 2014.

Sheep Ireland, along with Teagasc and UCD, has been to the forefront of this research; it aimed to form the reference population for Ireland’s first genomic breeding values for sheep.

With the OVIGEN project set to come to a close later this year, Sheep Ireland’s Eamon Wall told delegates at a recent industry meeting that other ways need to be identified to continue the genomic testing of sheep.

He said: “The completion of OVIGEN is this year and the budget has been spent now. There is really no more money for genotyping or for visiting flocks.

It has been a massive investment in our pedigree sheep breeds and hopefully that will have a long-term legacy for Irish sheep breeding. But, that long-term legacy will only be realised if genotyping is continued.

“If we pull down the shutters now and say ‘wasn’t that a nice project’, we’re going to pretty much lose all the benefits that we have accrued up to now. That’s the key message; we need to keep it going.”

After the meeting, Sheep Ireland and breed society representatives met to discuss the possibility of continuing genotyping this year.

Sheep Ireland will cover part of the cost of undertaking the tests, while farmers will have to pay €10 to have a ram or ewe sampled. If an agreement is reached between the parties involved, the aim is to start testing on April 30.

More money for high-starred rams

Also speaking at the meeting, Sheep Ireland’s Kevin McDermott highlighted that farmers are willing to pay more money for rams with high €uroStar ratings.

Presenting an analysis of premier sale results from 2017, Kevin illustrated that 5-star rams traded from just over €700 to almost €1,000, while their 1-star counterparts made between €500 and €600.

There’s a pretty good message in that breeders are bringing better-starred animals to the sales and commercial farmers are then paying extra to get them.

“I think that’s a really positive message and, if that continues year-after-year, we are going to see a real increase in the rate of genetic gain.”

Kevin also disclosed that this year’s Elite €uroStar Multi-breed Ram Sale will take place on August 24. 306 rams were catalogued for last year’s sale and a top price of €940 was achieved.