Suffolk sheep breeders will be some of the first in the UK to benefit from gene markers developed in New Zealand for footrot tolerance and cold survival.

Speaking via a phone link at the Royal Show, Jon Hickford, of Lincoln University, New Zealand, told a briefing that by selecting for footrot tolerance it was possible to greatly reduce the time and money spent controlling and treating foot-rot, particularly vaccination and foot bathing chemical costs.

“New Zealand’s experience suggests savings of about £2 a head could be made. The New Zealand wool industry is predicted to make savings of about NZ$24m (£9m) in the next 10 years.”

Dr Hickford said the cold survival gene marker could identify sheep with vigour and those with the ability to thrive from birth. “Lambs are ranked on three scores – A, B and C – and the idea is to avoid breeding from animals scoring C, rather than forcefully breeding towards sheep scoring A and B.


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“A sheep with a C score is four times more likely to die of cold at birth than one scoring A,” he said. The test is linked to brown fat mobilisation at birth, as lambs who mobilise brown fat quicker are faster to get up and suck and thus have increased survival rates.

Suffolk Sheep Society commercial director Robyn Hulme said it was important for the breed to be at the forefront of such developments and ensure commercial ram buyers were given the chance to buy rams best equipped for their situations.

But MLC sheep and beef scientist Duncan Pullar said that, while the tests looked promising, it was essential to validate them under UK conditions before they were roled out on a wider scale.