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Sheep & their Management Project - Matching Genetics and Production Systems

Project Leader
Dr Andrew Thompson
Department of Agriculture & Food, Western Australia
Tel: 0437 316 117

About the Project

The project will provide industry with the necessary information and products to breed a transformed sheep that requires less labour inputs, is profitable and is well matched to its environment, enabling efficient sheep production systems. There are four project aims:

Define how the relative value of production and disease resistance traits changes with production environment, management strategy and labour availability.

Develop a methodology to identify individuals or families that lose less weight during periods of nutritional stress, define the genetic parameters for the trait and use bioeconomic models to understand the trait’s impact on whole farm profitability.

Define selection indexes for key sheep production zones that incorporate new knowledge on the optimum emphasis that should be placed on production, resilience and disease resistance traits for each production zone.

Develop information and products that will allow commercial producers to formulate breeding objectives and use ASBV's more effectively in selection of replacement rams for use in their production system.


Business Case

The business case for this project is based primarily on delivery of Outcome 1 (Improved sheep management and decision making). This will initially be addressed by developing procedures to improve farm profit and sheep health by matching sheep genotype and farm production system, and specifically more accurately valuing traits in the context of availability and cost of labour. The project will contribute to achieving a 10% increase in productivity by 20% producers.


The ultimate aim of this activity is to improve the match between the sheep genotype and the requirements of the region, production system and management. The project aims to determine the relative value of production, easy-care, resilience and disease resistance traits across the key sheep production zones. The project will develop novel ways to include labour requirements and costs associated with these traits in the calculation of their relative value. This information will then be used to develop individual selection indexes for key sheep production zones to help select sheep genotypes suited to each zone taking into account the impact of genotype on profit, animal welfare and labour use. The initial modeling of the relative value of traits will include sensitivity analyses to determine the traits that have the greatest impact on whole farm profit and/or whose value changes significantly as the production environment changes. The process will define areas where further research is required and
information that is required for models to appropriately value traits. The work will combine new science with whole farm bio-economic modeling to deliver sheep and production systems that will have improved welfare and financial outcomes with less risk when faced with more variable climatic conditions.

The sheep industry faces challenges in terms of labour-use efficiency in sheep management systems as the number of sheep managed by an individual continues to grow. This project will assess the impact of genetic and management strategies on the labour requirements of sheep production systems across different environments.

This information will be incorporated into economic models to allow labour costs to be included into the calculation of the relative economic value of traits. This process will be repeated across different production environments. Many sheep producing regions in Southern Australia are also predicted to get drier and the rainfall patterns more variable and less winter dominant resulting in larger changes in feed supply between seasons and years. Understanding the genetic requirements for sheep
run under these conditions is a major focus of this project. Defining these genetic requirements requires an understanding of the impact of production trait genotype on whole farm performance (profit, environment and people) across different environments.

To ensure an efficient match between genetics and production system, regionally-specific breeding objectives and selection indexes will be developed that incorporate the total impact of selection traits on profit, variation in profit and risk between years, methane output and animal welfare. This project will also undertake to develop methods to select those sheep that are more robust when faced with sub-optimal nutrition and will involve new research that will elucidate the genetic differences in an animal’s resilience to variability and/or extremes of the biophysical environment. The project will develop extension materials in partnership with Sheep Genetics with information about the effect of breeding values for production, resistance to disease and weight loss under different production systems and contribute these to Project 5.2 (Industry Training) for incorporation in training packages.