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Embracing a genomic future

In 2023 AHDB launched the UK's first genomic breeding values for sheep as part of Signet's National Hill Sheep Evaluation following research by Dr Samir Id Lahoucine at SRUC using funding from the Hybu Cig Cymru (HCC)-led Hill Ram Scheme and Farming Connect's Welsh Sheep Genetics Programme.

This was a major milestone for livestock breeding and AHDB are now working collaboratively with a number of Breed Societies and Research Institutions to enable other breed types to embrace the genomic opportunity within their breeding programmes. 

What is a Genomic Evaluation?

Genomic information enables predictions of genetic merit to be made using measures of an animal’s DNA, rather than being solely reliant on data derived from measurements taken on them and their relatives. Genomic approaches do not replace our current genetic analyses but build on them – introducing an additional genomic step that greatly increases the accuracy of our predictions.

Genomic breeding evaluations have been the backbone of dairy genetic improvement for more than 20 years. They deliver faster rates of genetic gain and enable the use of younger sires within the breeding programme rather than waiting for sires to become proven.

Benefits derived from DNA

We are still learning about the many benefits associated with the storage of DNA and its use in genetic evaluations, these include: -

  • The correction of parentage errors.
  • The identification of major genes (like Scrapie and Myostatin), as well as reporting potentially harmful recessive traits.
  • A more accurate way to compare recorded sheep in flocks that may have little pedigree linkage between them.
  • A more accurate way to introduce new, unrecorded genetics into a breeding programme. Encouraging new breeders to get involved and find useful outcrosses.
  • A more informative approach to assessing hard to measure traits, such as those
    • With a low heritability, like lamb survival
    • Only expressed by females, like maternal ability and prolificacy
    • Expressed later in life, like ewe longevity or body condition score
    • That are expensive to measure like methane emissions using PAC chambers or meat yield using the CT scanner

By using genomic approaches, faster rates of genetic gain will be realised across a population because breeding values will be more accurate and superior young rams can be used with greater confidence in the breeding programme.




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