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Analysis enhancements and revised database for Sheep Genetics

13 May 2022

Meat & Livestock Australia’s (MLA) Sheep Genetics program continually strives to provide world leading genetic evaluations for Australia’s sheep and goat producers. Every year, Sheep Genetics make updates to the genetic evaluation to ensure that the service remains world leading and results in the greatest possible genetic progress for producers.

Sheep Genetics has implemented its analysis enhancements for 2022. These enhancements include a range of technical updates to the analysis centred around two key themes: 

  • More accurate decisions through improved analysis and calculation of Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBV’s) and updated selection indexes
  • Ensuring the long-term efficiencies of genetic evaluations.

These enhancements have been developed under the MLA R&D contracts with the Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit (AGBU). AGBU is a joint venture between the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and University of New England (UNE) and is responsible for the R&D behind the Sheep Genetics and BREEDPLAN genetic evaluations.

As part of this year’s analysis enhancements, MLA has launched the redeveloped Sheep Genetics database. The database contains valuable information on pedigree, on-farm and research data that is used to generate ASBVs from the LAMBPLAN, MERINOSELECT, KIDPLAN and DOHNE evaluations.

According to Michael Crowley, General Manager of Research, Development and Adoption at MLA, the analysis enhancements and revised Sheep Genetic databases are an integral part to delivering breeding values to industry.

“Following increased rates of genotyping and more flocks submitting data to Sheep Genetics than ever before, the need to update one of the industry’s key databases was important.

“There are over 1000 flocks submitting data and interacting directly with the Sheep Genetics database systems. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of genotypes with the MERINOSELECT evaluation alone including 200,000 genotypes in every fortnightly evaluation,” Mr Crowley said.

This year’s enhancements and in-particular the database redevelopment have been ranked as a high priority by the Sheep Genetics Advisory and Technical Committees. The goal is to ensure that these developments will meet the needs of the industry in the future.

“The evolution of database technology, the growing number of animals with ASBVs, and the growth of genomic information were key reasons for undertaking these analysis enhancements. These factors along with creating a system that is more serviceable with increased flexibility is essential in the delivery of these genetic tools to the industry,” Mr Crowley said.

“The new database and enhancements will allow us to develop new genetic products for commercial breeders, as well as provide easier access to the latest ASBVs.

“It also allows for integration with other industry and commercial data which benefits industry, and the utilisation and flexibility of data capture means that there are more datasets available for a greater variety of needs,” Mr Crowley said.

2022 analysis enhancements

2022’s enhancements contained several updates that will impact most Sheep Genetics users. As a result of these enhancements users can expect to see changes to breeding values and indexes. It will be important that ram breeders and ram buyers utilise the percentile bands available on the Sheep Genetics website to re-benchmark themselves. The enhancements this year include:

  • The replacement of the old Number of Lambs Weaned trait (NLW) with a new Weaning Rate (WR) breeding value. This new ASBV has replaced NLW in the indexes for Maternal and Merino analyses
  • Terminal indexes have been updated to include lambing ease.
  • An improved accuracy algorithm to deal with growing amounts of genomic information implemented into the evaluation
  • Retirement of the Maternal $ Index
  • Routine reporting of the database quality score (DQS) to ram breeders
  • Further updates to the Sheep Genetics website
  • Corriedales now being reported from the Maternal analysis
  • Implementation of the Sheep Genetics database redevelopment

Sheep Genetics database redevelopment

Streamlining and simplifying the Sheep Genetics database was an important undertaking in recent years, especially considering the significant growth in genomic data available to producers.

Three initially separate databases, MERINOSELECT, LAMBPLAN and Resource Flock were combined in a single data warehouse. This single database reduces business risk, increases serviceability allowing data sources to be easily combined.

“There are also benefits for producers for inputting and accessing genetic information. Currently, breeders are emailed their results following inclusion of data in the analysis. The database redevelopment will allow breeders to access customisable reports direct from the Sheep Genetics website,” Mr Crowley said.

The single database will bring Sheep Genetics in line with other industry and commercial data. The utilisation and flexibility of data capture means that there are more datasets available for a greater variety of needs.