Selecting Fine Wool Genetics for Your Farming Business
Estimated Breeding Values
What are breeding values?
EBVs are a tool that can provide you with objective information about a ram's genetic potential. EBVs are particularly useful for traits that are not easy to see on sale day (such as eye muscle depth (EMD) or lamb survival (NLW)). EBVs allow breeders to compare the genetic potential of animals independent of the environment and location.
That said, EBVs are not a substitute for a full visual inspection of your potential ram team. Checking rams for conformation and physical soundness prior to purchase is still essential. Cull faults are cull faults, regardless of how good the EBVs are.
Everyone's sheep breeding enterprise is unique. We all farm in different environments and there are a host of other factors that determine what our ideal production system is: scale, number of staff, parasites and diseases, market demands, and the 'what gets me out of bed?' factor. EBVs are simply a tool that help to you find the genetics that can produce the sheep that best suits your needs.
How can I access EBVs?
Since 2013, the number of fine-wool ram breeders in New Zealand generating EBVs has jumped from three to over twenty. NZM has worked closely with New Zealand's fine-wool ram producers to help them move their data into genetic evaluation systems and produce EBVs for their stud ewes and rams. We are encouraging breeders to use the MERINO SELECT system because of its depth of data and genetic parameters directly suited to Merino and other fine-wool sheep.
The great benefit of this work is that, with access to EBVs, commercial ram buyers are able to better differentiate between rams - based on the rams' genetic potential - across all characteristics that are desirable for their particular production system.
Rather than relying solely on a visual assessment of a ram, ram buyers can use a combination of EBVs and visual appraisal to assess the ram. This is particularly useful for identifying rams with superior genetic potential in traits that cannot be seen in the sale pen.
This is a series of quick links to useful resources:
Using a selection index
A selection index can help you balance the traits that are most important to you. EBVs for several traits are weighted and combined to give a single index value for a particular ram.
There are different kinds of indexes, and the type of index that suits you will depend on your production system. Sheep Genetics provides a range of indexes, depending on your breeding objective.
Bear in mind that indexes are developed for a general breeding objective and can only tell whether the ram you are considering will help you move in the general direction you want to move.
It is important to check the ram's specific breeding values for traits that are important to you (both desirable and undesirable traits) to make sure there are no unwanted surprises down the track!
MERINOSELECT generates across-flock and across-breed genetic information (in the form of breeding values) for fine-wool sheep in Australasia. The breeding values are updated twice a month by Sheep Genetics, using data submitted by breeders from across the industry.
Click here for more information about the MERINOSELECT database and using estimated breeding values to assess the genetic potential of fine-wool sheep.
What is involved?
Each year, fine-wool ram breeders collect DNA samples from their rams and DNA is extracted from each sample and genotyped using SNP chip technology (an analysis that defines the DNA sequence at different locations across the genome).
Why has the information been collected?
These genotypes are being used to build a reference population for the New Zealand fine-wool industry, particularly the footrot breeding value project - FeetFirst.