Genetics Research in 2024 and Beyond
As we move into 2024, I am very excited to expand our small ruminant research and outreach efforts. If you have been a long-time reader of this column or follow our research programs, you’ll know that I have a passion for optimizing the genetic potential of sheep and goats. Genetics are the foundation of livestock production. Without a good foundation, many of the goals we may want to achieve may not be attainable. You’ll also be keenly aware that my desire is to see more quantitative means of genetic selection (data) vs the primary way we have selected sheep and goats, visual appraisal.
Don’t get me wrong, I like to look at well designed animals that are structurally correct, heavily muscled, conform to breed standards, etc. But much of what we see is influenced by non-genetic factors, such as how much feed the animals receives, how many siblings did it have, etc. And many of the commercially important traits such as parasite resistance, fitness to environment, and reproductive potential can’t practically be assessed without data and proper handling of the data to allow it to be meaningful. I’m not suggesting that visual appraisal should be disregarded. But without data we aren’t going to be able make major improvement in genetic potential of sheep and goats from what has already been done.
In 2024, we have two major efforts that are shifting our genetics research program. First, we have initiated a 3 year grant project with the American Dorper Sheep Breeders Society to perform a Sire Progeny Test. Second, we have received funds to develop two Goat Resource Herds that will consist of purebred Spanish and Boer goats. These two project will not only expand the scope of research that we have been working on but it will also allow for much greater participation by those involved in supplying seedstock in this region.
The Dorper / White Dorper Sire Progeny Test began this spring. We received 8 rams that were nominated by ADSBS to be included in this effort. These rams were group sire mated with our Dorper / White Dorper ewe flock that has been extensively phenotyped and genotyped for commercially important traits. Ewes lambed out this fall and DNA samples were taken from the lambs to determine parentage. Lambs will be weaned in early 2024 and managed on pasture for 60 to 120 days. Thereafter, lambs will enter a feedlot for 60 to 90 days and artificially challenged with parasites. A set of replacement females will be returned to the ewe flock and the rest of the lambs will be taken to harvest. Performance data collected on the lambs will include; birth and weaning type, growth rate on pasture and on feed, natural and artificially challenged parasite resistance, carcass traits, and eating quality traits. All of the performance data on the lambs will be tied back to the sires nominated to the study. In addition, all of the data from the lambs, ewes, and rams will be submitted to the National Sheep Improvement Program.
The Spanish and Boer Goat Resource Herd project will be begin in the summer of 2024. This effort will be similar to the aforementioned sheep sire test; however, we don’t have ongoing genetic research herds of goats. Therefore, we will be sourcing purebred females from industry partners to develop the herds along with taking in nominated bucks/billies to breed these females. This effort will take roughly 3 to 5 years for the data to catch up to the current state of the sheep project, so that the quantitative predictions are accurate and reliable.
In both efforts, this is combination of advancing research tools and demonstration of exisiting quantitiative selection techniques. The National Sheep Improvement Program has been available to the industry for several decades but the technology has been underutilized in Texas. This is partly due the lack of awareness of the technology and what the technology can do for sheep and goat breeders. And the methods that Texas sheep and goat breeders to raise livestock has also prohibited some folks from using the technology. More recently, molecular testing and electronic data collection/storage has removed these barriers and expanded the number of breeders that can participate.
The current state of quantitative and molecular genetic selection has real-world practical application and should be implemented as soon as possible. And the speed technological innovation are happening in science shows real promise for research efforts to result in new quantitative and molecular predictions available to sheep breeders in years compared to what would have taken decades in the past.
Hopefully, I haven’t nerded out too much and you are still reading this article. As I’m sure you are wondering what does this mean as a commercial sheep or goat producers. This technology will allow you to seek out breeding animals, male or female, that you can put into your flock or herd that will make changes to your bottom line. For some, this may be animals that require less deworming to stay healthy. For others, it might mean females that produce 25% higher lamb / kid crops. For others, it might mean animals that stay healthy and productive without supplemental feed.
I hope you share my excitement about the direction of our research efforts. If so, we hope that you’ll stay tuned to what we are doing and participate in our field days, where this information will be shared. Not only are we excited to share our finding but are also eager to hear from the industry as to how we can better design and conduct our programs to meet the needs of the industry.
To provide feedback on this article or request topics for future articles, contact me at email@example.com or 325-657-7324. For general questions about sheep and goats, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office. If they can’t answer your question, they have access to someone who can.