SHOW FOCUSES ON GENETICS

18 July 1997




SHOW FOCUSES ON GENETICS

Wales is now doing more work on sheep genetics than anywhere else in the world, reckons MLC consultant Huw Thomas

GENETIC improvement of sheep will be featured by breed societies, research institutes and advisory agencies.

Central will be progress on MLCs Welsh Sheep Strategy, which links several initiatives in what is probably Europes most ambitious integrated sheep breeding programme.

Financed by £201,000 of Objective 5b funding from Brussels, the MLC-managed project brings together nine group breeding schemes, six sire referencing schemes, and seven central performance testing groups for hill rams.

The money is also contributing to the cost of scanning for back fat and eye muscle depth on 120 ram-producing farms. The results have been used to create nucleus flocks to accelerate the rate of improvement.

"All the breeds used in Wales are already involved at some level," says Huw Thomas, MLC senior Welsh consultant. "In Wales we are now doing more work on sheep genetics than anywhere else in the world. Much of this involves the Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, which is becoming a centre of excellence in sheep breeding."

Texel and Bluefaced Leicester group breeding schemes are already based at WIRS, as are the Blue-faced Leicester and Beulah Speckled Face sire reference schemes.

"To take genetic improvement on further we have applied for £1m of extra EU cash over the next five years, which will be match-funded by MLC, the Welsh Office, the Development Board for Rural Wales and WIRS."

Among the projects the money will pay for is a detailed study of any correlation between desirable breed characteristics, like hardiness and mothering ability in hill sheep, and carcass traits.

"Both pedigree and commercial flockmasters are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about genetic improvement," says Mr Thomas. "Traditional selection methods, and newer techniques like AI, scanning, and multiple ovulation and embryo transfer can all make a contribution.

"The Sheep Strategy is a comprehensive action plan that links all parts of the stratified sheep industry, and offers farmers the opportunity to get involved at any level."

Both pedigree and commercial flockmasters are becoming increasingly enthusiastic about genetic improvement. Traditional selection methods, as well as scanning, AI, mutiple ovulation and embryo transfer can all help.

Dewi Jones (left) and Will Haresign, Welsh Institute of Rural Studies, with Beulah sire reference rams. There are six sire reference schemes.

Huw Thomas, MLC senior Welsh consultant, says all breeds used in Wales are involved at some level.


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