Genomics contributing to Double Genetic Gain to fight Facial Eczema
Since the launch of genomics for the New Zealand sheep industry in 2010, technologists have been holding their breath for the day when a real change in genetic gain is demonstrated to farmers. That day has finally arrived.
ARDG (Advanced Romney Designer Genetics) have been diligently following their breeding principles and policies for decades and they have often been the first to adopt new technology that aligns with the objectives of their ram buyers. ARDG have participated in sheep research programs with Ovita and Beef+Lamb NZ Genetics for many years, and they have boldly believed in genomic technology and invested since its inception in 2010. Zoetis Genetics as the commercializers of genomic technology in NZ sheep, have worked closely with the five ARDG flocks for many years, educating the breeders and their commercial farmers about the features and benefits of DNA technology.
The investment has paid off. ARDG have almost doubled the rate of genetic gain for FE tolerance across their flocks in the last 5 years compared to the previous 5. DPX or Facial Eczema is a trait that is synonymous with ARDG. ARDG are part of the founding fathers of recording for Facial Eczema. Facial Eczema recording is very expensive but is a highly valuable trait to the NZ sheep industry. Without breeders like ARDG, commercial farmers would be floundering in the face of global warming where humid conditions allow the disease to run rampant. Fortunately, the production of Facial Eczema tolerant rams can deal with much of the FE challenge throughout NZ.
ARDG almost doubling the rate of their own genetic gain for FE tolerance is one thing, but the fact that they have also maintained strong maternal traits like growth and fertility shows the dedication and commitment that these breeders have made to the industry. This chart represents the difference in genetic gain ARDG is making, compared to the industry average.
ARDG is making $2.64 per annum gain vs the industry at $1.16. This is using the Beef and Lamb Genetics New Zealand Maternal Worth index combined with the facial eczema trait.
How is Genomics used?
Genomics is simply another tool in the tool box to help breeders make timely and better decisions, more often. Genomics can essentially be used on a lamb; can sort the wheat from the chaff early without having to hold animals for years. Waiting for rams to develop only to find that they never had the ability anyway, is frustrating and expensive.
So what is genomics?
Genomics utilises an animal’s DNA profile to identify young animals that have potential for performing in certain areas, like facial eczema or growth or reproduction. Importantly it’s the ability to use young animals that makes the difference. Young animals who have not yet been challenged or tested for their ability to perform are a risk to use in a breeding program, so instead we can firstly get a prediction of performance from their DNA. Breeders have tended to wait until the animal is older and has been progeny tested or challenged but in this case, time is the cost.
Economically the value of superior genetic gain is worth millions to New Zealand. Certainly, that has been the promise of genomics around the world. The dairy industry and the USA beef industry have also invested heavily in genomics and they have already seen large changes to the genetic gain of their herds. To finally see it come through in NZ sheep is a thrill. ARDG have not wavered in their adoption of Sheep5K. Zoetis is so lucky having customers who are so passionate about what they do and are proud of the fact that farmers throughout the North Island now have an even better solution for dealing with Facial Eczema.
Information supplied by Zoetis Genetics, June 2018
Beef and Lamb NZ has several articles on FE, below is an excerpt from the Facing up to Eczema Fact Sheet.
The liver damage associated with FE results in production losses that are much greater than may first appear. Even when no symptoms are visible, FE can reduce lifetime productivity by up to 25 per cent.
Breeding for increased tolerance to FE should be your first line of defence. Buying FE-tolerant rams will make a great difference in only a few years, but you have to be consistent in only bringing tolerant rams into your flock. Beef and Lamb NZ Facing up to eczema fact sheet.
Agricultural Scientist, Neale Towers says this about breeding for tolerance to FE
Towers says there is a large genetic component to FE susceptibility in sheep and he urges farmers in high FE risk areas to ensure their ram breeders are testing and selecting for FE tolerance.“It is the only long-term strategy.”
2016 was an exceptional year, with extremely high spore counts across most regions. Is your flock protected genetically from the devastation of facial eczema? Our breeding programme is the most advanced! Talk to your nearest breeder about the benefits of breeding replacement ewes from our rams. Can you afford not to?
The map attached below shows the areas affected by FE and the predictions for future areas, 2016 areas on the left and the prediction pattern on the right.
About FE Gold
“There has been concern by some Ramguard breeders regarding the sale and subsequent misrepresentation of FE genetic stock. This is happening where top FE genetics are potentially being diluted and the resulting progeny being presented for sale as "FE Tolerant". There is little we can do to stop this but some clients want to promote the breeders that are dosing at the top level with a brand like “FE Gold”. Ramguard is taking on board these suggestions and is willing to look at this as a solution and is getting advice on promoting this idea.” Neville Amyes , Ramguard.
The ARDG are leading the New Zealand sheep industry in facial eczema tolerance research so you can be rest assured that the rams you buy are genuinely represented and that we as a group are testing at the maximum level available in New Zealand.
- In February 1969 breeders contributed the top 1% of their flocks to the central flock run by Rex Alexander at Waiuku lambed 154%
- The following year 52% of that flock was lost with facial eczema.
- In 1979 the first field trials for FE testing were set up in South Auckland.
- In 1984 the first sporedesmin testing of rams for FE was set up.
Currently the ARDG members all contribute their top 15 rams on production, facial eczema and worm resilient combined breeding value indexes to be tested. From these results the top 20 twotooths regardless of whose property they originate are used by the 5 members of the ARDG across their recorded flocks as well as 5-8 mixed aged rams which are swapped around to maintain genetic links. No sires regardless of production traits are used across the recorded flocks unless they have been tested at .65 (mg/kg) and passed.
ARDG members attended the recent AG Research FE seminar. The ARDG is leading Romney Genetics in producing FE tolerant sheep, we are however innovative and not resting on our success, always looking for other improvements that can be made.
To view a power point presentation on the benefits for breeding for facial eczema resistance open the pdf at the bottom of this page
To view the Beef and Lamb booklet on FE click here facing-facial-eczema_version2.pdf
For more information and analysis of two farms that have moved to ARDG Genetics please click here and here.
For the latest facial eczema results in the Central Progeny Test please click here.