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Rates of Genetic Gain Increasing

Genetic gain has markedly increased in the last 5 years according to a recent review of genetic progress within Signet’s sheep breeding programmes. Major improvement has been observed in each of the breed types recorded through Signet; namely the terminal sires, lowland maternal breeds and hill sheep.

Within Terminal Sire breeds, recent genetic gain has been particularly fast – as breeders change their breeding policies to place more emphasis on breeding lines that not only grow quickly, but also have a superior yield of meat in the carcase. Here ram breeders have been aided by Signet’s introduction of new, weight adjusted breeding values for carcase traits – as well as levy board support for measurement services like CT scanning.

Genetic Gain in Terminal Sire Breeds recorded with Signet

Maternal breeding programmes have also made faster progress in recent years, as producers place more emphasis on economically important EBVs like prolificacy and maternal ability. The Lleyn is by far the most widely recorded maternal breed, with between 15,000 and 20,000 lambs recorded per year over the last decade. However, even relatively new breeding lines like the Exlana, a wool shedding composite, have made rapid progress using performance records to select superior breeding stock right from their launch.  

Genetic Gain in Maternal Breeds recorded with Signet

It is 50 years this month since the first hill sheep were born and later weight recorded in what was to become Signet’s hill sheep breeding evaluation. Progress within the hill sector is always more challenging; data collection on the hill is more difficult and ram breeders have a wide range of traits to take into consideration when selecting breeding stock.

Even so, the trends observed within those flocks that record with Signet show what can be achieved through careful selection. High gains are being achieved within Beulah and Scottish Blackface breeding programmes and last year the number of Welsh Mountain lambs recorded with Signet nearly doubled, with further increases in recording numbers expected in 2021 as part of a breeding project run by HCC. This explains the current plateau in the Welsh Mountain genetic trend, but also the potential to come.

Genetic Gain in Hill Sheep Breeds recorded with Signet     

To see the charts in more detail, click here for the full article


About the author

Samuel Boon

Samuel Boon

I am the Manager of Signet Breeding Services, within the AHDB.

Enthusiast on all things genetics to do with sheep and cattle and currently also supporting Bridget Lloyd in running the @RamCompare progeny test with ~18,000 lambs/annum.

I am also involved with the:-

  • Relaunch of Terminal Sire Breeding Programmes (Sheep)
  • AHDB lead for the Welsh Sheep Breeding Project run by HCC - working with Innovis, HCC and Janet Roden
  • Database design and development for this website
  • National Sheep Breeds Survey
  • Development of Carcase Trait EBVs in Beef Cattle
  • Formerly involved with the delivery of the Welsh Sheep Strategy, Northern Upland Sheep Strategy, Suckler Cow Project, Highlands and Islands Sheep Strategy

I can be followed on Twitter @SamBoonBreeding