Show Notes

No matter what country you visit, each will always say that they produce the best sheep. But, up until recently, we didn't have a fair comparison of sheep genetics between countries. That's where Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority of Ireland, and our guest this week, Dr Noirin McHugh, come in. 

Both Ireland and New Zealand have grass-based systems with an emphasis on export markets. In Ireland, their breeding objectives are similar to those in New Zealand, centring on lambing efficiency, growth performance, carcass quality, health and maternal traits. This makes it a great foundation for comparison of genetic merit. 

"Back in 2012, we actually compared on paper our two indexes" explains Noirin. They wanted to see how the rate of genetic gain compared between Ireland and New Zealand. "New Zealand, because they had so much more data behind them, the rate of genetic gain or the rate of improvement due to genetics, was three times higher than what we saw here on the ground in Ireland," Noirin explains, with the Irish Maternal Sheep Index sitting at $0.50/lamb per year vs New Zealand at $2.60/lamb per year. 

This led them to conduct a more controlled experiment, so that a true comparison could be made. In 2013 and 2014, 60 ewes were imported into Ireland from New Zealand. They were selected based on the Maternal Worth Index and selected from six different flocks. 
A four-year controlled experiment commenced in 2015 at Teagasc. It compared the imported genetics, 'high' Irish genetics and 'low' Irish genetics. The results favoured New Zealand genetics in various aspects, including ewe survival, lamb numbers, ease of lambing and labour requirements. However, it did show that with Irish genetics, selecting the highest genetic merit animals can lead to substantial improvements in a short period of time. 

Since that trial finished, Noirin has been involved with many other groundbreaking research trials in the sheep and beef field in Ireland and she tells Mark a little about these, too. From methane testing, to the differing methods and measures of lameness recording, to how Teagasc approach data collection to make it as easy as possible for their farmers. 

The differing ways of recording data across countries is interesting, but it goes to show that the principles of genetics work the same worldwide and, that by selecting high-merit sheep with the traits you want, significant change can be made to your business.

Head Shepherd is brought to you by neXtgen Agri International Limited, we help livestock farmers get the most out of the genetics they farm with. Get in touch with us if you would like to hear more about how we can help you do what you do best -

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