The myriad sources of data now available to Sheep Ireland is allowing the organisation to achieve the role it was created to fulfill on its establishment back in 2009.

This was the core message delivered by Sheep Ireland’s manager, Kevin McDermott, during his presentation to the recent EasyCare open evening.

The event was held on the Co. Antrim farm of Campbell Tweed.

“Our aim is to secure balanced breeding goals for the Irish sheep industry,” he stressed.

“The good news is that the facts expanding network of data sources and real-time information available to us is making this possible.

“E.g., genetic evaluations can be updated on a weekly basis. Making this possible is the fact that Sheep Ireland is a centralised data source for the entire Irish sheep industry.”

Genomics in sheep breeding

McDermott particularly highlighted the role that genomics is now playing within Ireland’s sheep breeding sectors.

“Being able to genotype sheep brings with it many benefits. At a very fundamental level, it allows us to verify the parentage of pedigree breeding stock,” he stated.

“This is significant, given that up to 8% of pedigree ewes and lambs born in Ireland have been attributed the wrong ancestry, up to this point.

“However, genomics opens up a host of new opportunities, when it comes to delivering improved performance at farm level. But none of this would be possible without the increasing buy-in of both pedigree and commercial sheep farmers throughout Ireland.”

A total of eight pedigree sheep societies are now using the Sheep Ireland I.T system to administer their flockbooks: Belclare; Beltex; Charollais; Galway; Irish Suffolk Sheep Society; Rouge de l’Ouest; Texel; and Vendeen.

The Sheep Ireland representative also confirmed the benefits that will be accrued by farmers using the organisation’s new phone ‘app’.  

Essentially, it allows flock owners associated with Sheep Ireland to record information about their animals, such as lambing, and growth rates on an almost real-time basis.

“Gone are the days when recordings are initially written down on paper and then uploaded to the Sheep Ireland once the farmer gets back to his or her office computer. As a result, the margin for error is greatly reduced,” McDermott explained.

Sheep Ireland

The impact of the continuing progress made by Sheep Ireland over recent years has been significant.

The organisation was designated the responsibility of increasing the rate of genetic gain within the Irish sheep sector by identifying and promoting the use of rams with more profitable and sustainable genetics.

This is achieved by gathering performance data from the top rams in the country and assessing their strengths and weaknesses using a genetic evaluation which is updated weekly to include any new data.

The results of these genetic evaluations are then displayed in sales catalogues and online in a simple 1-5-star rating system, allowing sheep farmers to make a more informed breeding decision when selecting their next stock ram. 

Looking to the future, Sheep Ireland sees its role as being part of the response from Irish agriculture to the challenge of global warming.

Specifically, the organisation is currently seeking to develop an Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) for sheep, linked to their methane emissions. 

Kevin McDermott commented:

“Again, genomics can play a role in this context.

“All of the work carried out by Sheep Ireland is independently validated. This approach gives sheep producers a very high level of confidence in the performance-related data that we make available.”