13 March 2000


Farming Media & Daily Farm Pages


Low-drench sheep becoming a reality

(580 words)

Breeding sheep which are naturally resistant to a range of diseases has gone from being a dream to a reality.

The powerful resources of Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL) -- the centralised computer bureau and genetic engine -- are now being applied to disease and parasite resistance, says general manager Ken Geenty.

"For the first time this ram selling season we provided a number of stud breeders with an indexed ranking of their rams’ ability to resist internal parasites.

"For those farmers wishing to reduce drenching, or to go organic, this is a powerful tool," he says.

Disease resistance joins reproduction, survival, growth, meat and wool growth goal trait groups, all of which are expressed as a ranking for individual rams.

These goal traits may be expressed individually as well as collated for an overall dollars and cents measurement of a ram’s potential.

The SIL disease resistance group of goal traits has been created in conjunction with AgResearch.

Ram resistance to internal parasites is measured through the WormFEC service, either via faecal egg counts or antibody tests.



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Invermay-based AgResearch scientist John McEwan says it’s now simple for stud breeders to directly download WormFEC data to SIL and obtain parasite resistance reports on individual rams.

"As a modular-type system we are able to add additional components to SIL with little fuss," says Mr McEwan.

"Because we have a central data repository, it is easy for SIL’s genetic engine to manipulate the data, and also easy to attach different trait interpretations for breeders."

Because of this flexibility and power a facial eczema resistance ram index will soon be available through SIL.

InnerVision CT scanning of ram lean-muscling may also soon be available as an index figure.

Under the SIL system, if a trait is measurable, it is able to be processed and interpreted. Traits for other diseases such as footrot resistance are also in the pipeline.

Eastern Southland Southern Romney Development Group breeder Murray Rohloff has selected for internal parasite resistance for 10 years. He sells 500 rams, and leases 250-300 ram hoggets a year.

Over the past five years his flock’s faecal egg counts have dropped 32 per cent, genetically as shown by SIL’s Genetic Trends Analysis.

The SIL system allows him to obtain regular updated reports on all traits, including parasite resistance.

"All my clients look at the resistance figures," says Mr Rohloff.

"If two rams have equal production merit, they’ll always go for rams with a better resistance index.

"We also have a stream of organic farmers who don’t have drenches as a backstop, so want as resistant a sheep as possible."




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Mr Rohloff says as parasites increasingly become resistant to drenches, it is vital to develop the natural immunity of sheep.

"In a highly-stocked situation we’re now producing sheep that only require three drenches in total through to their adulthood," he says.

"Other ram breeders should also be incorporating parasite resistance into their programmes, and it saddens me for the industry and individual commercial farmers that many don’t."

Dr Geenty says SIL’s disease module provides exciting new opportunities for breeders.

"It leads to less reliance on chemicals on a farm, and less all-round heartache," he says.

"It also demonstrates that organics and high-tech can go hand in hand.

"We all intrinsically wish to have fewer artificial inputs in farming. SIL is helping to provide a sophisticated tool which makes this practically possible for our intensive pastoral production."






For more information, contact:

Dr Ken Geenty, freephone 0800 SIL HELP (0800 745 435)
e-mail: ken.geenty@woolpro.co.nz


John McEwan, tel 03 489 9227

e-mail: mcewanj@agresearch.cri.nz


Murray Rohloff, tel 03 203 8642


[An electronic image of John McEwan is available by contacting greer@wham.co.nz]