Selection for specific traits can help improve animal welfare, decrease labour costs and increase disease resistance. In this webinar, Dr. David Scobie discusses his experiences in researching and breeding sheep towards this goal.
“A pivotal moment for me was when I met some sheep that had genetically short tails and later found a research paper about sheep with genetically bare breeches and set about trying to breed sheep with both. We added other traits like no horns, no wrinkles, and no wool on the head, legs or belly. Then we discovered tails that moult wool. All these traits are heritable, many of them are inherited independently so it is possible to select for bare breeches alone or short tails without the other traits, but as a package you can improve welfare, save money and labour. Flystrike is reduced fivefold! Weaning weights and lambing percentages seem to improve, and the only negative correlation seems to be with wool weight of the less valuable portions of the fleece. Breeding for these traits means you do it once in your life rather than repeat them every year for the rest of your life!”
Dr. Scobie was born on a rangeland station farming sheep in outback Australia. His family moved to a sheep, goat and beef cattle farm in coastal South Australia. He attended the University in Adelaide, majoring in entomology and animal science in 1985. He then completed a PhD on the effects of stress hormones on wool growth in 1991. He moved to New Zealand where he worked for 25 years at AgResearch on how production, welfare and genetics can reduce the risk of insect attacks (cutaneous myiasis or blow fly strike) on sheep. This culminated in the development of a sheep breeding goal to improve welfare and reduce production costs, which is being used by sheep breeders. He has also worked on genetic resistance to footrot in sheep and leather quality from both sheep and farmed deer. He currently works in farm systems on greenhouse gases and nitrate leaching that are big issues for New Zealand.