Sophisticated selection of sheep genes

In October 2013 on October 9, 2013 at 10:36 pm

Sheep backsides

Kirsti:  It’s shearing time in my family.

My parents have a small farm where Dad runs fine wool merinos, and we’re harvesting that cash crop at the moment.  The sheep are raised for wool, not meat, so all the looking and the feeling and the sniffing and the rubbing of the wool made me wonder about the breeding of fine wool merinos in Australia.

And WOAH!  What an interesting history!  I mean, I thought I knew a bit about sheep and breeding and all that stuff, but I will admit that I knew nothing of just how huge this industry is.  And just how much is known about the origin of the Australian merino, right down to the fact that as many as 70% of merinos currently in production are directly descended from one ram called ‘Emperor’, a French Rambouillet breed of sheep that was introduced around the 1860s to create the Peppin strain of Australian merino.

Australian Wool Innovation – a not-for-profit company owned by woolgrowers themselves – vortexed me into some amazing research and development across the fashion, textile and grower industries. So much so that this post is starting to sound a little like an ad for wool!

My interest was piqued by the breeding programs in progress to prevent breech strike, which is when sheep fly larvae (maggots) originating in poo stuck to wool around a sheep’s bum burrow into the sheep’s flesh around their nether regions (yes, this is a terrible affliction, you can wince now).  A commitment by Australian wool growers and researchers to address this can only be described as VITAL. The alternative is mulesing – removing wool producing skin from around their buttocks so that flies have nowhere to lay eggs.

There are genes for breech wrinkle, breech cover and dag (a fancy term for the potential for poo to hang off your bum), and researchers have developed a tool whereby growers can actually select rams that have desirable Australian Sheep Breeding Values for these traits. MERINOSELECT is the culmination of a huge amount of genetic and breeding research, and an example of how I wish we could better use ecological research to improve the state of our planet…..

I digress….

  1. […] I trod the boards (and concrete) of the shearing shed last week, all the while wondering about breeding good wool and hardy sheep, I was doing my jobs *almost* automatically. After the first 2 hour session of catching bellies, […]

  2. I didn’t know your family farmed Merinos! Even more reason for you to visit our sheep shed at my mum and dad’s place near Maldon. You can explain all the stuff there!

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