Meat & Livestock News

Pioneering the Sheep of Tomorrow

In a collaborative effort to advance sheep genetics, Pāmu (Landcorp Farming Ltd), the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), and Focus Genetics, supported by AgResearch, have launched the ‘Sheep of the Future’ programme. 

This initiative envisions sheep with finer wool, enhanced tolerance to heat, superior meat quality, and reduced methane emissions.

The programme’s objectives encompass:

  • Developing sheep with finer wool genetics (20-25 microns) suitable for regions beyond traditional Merino habitats.
  • Advancing strong wool breeds to bolster disease resistance and low-input traits, thereby reducing farming costs.
  • Continuing the selection of breeds for optimal growth, meat quality, and improved rumen function leading to decreased methane emissions.

Natalie Pickering, the Programme Manager from Focus Genetics, highlighted the significance of genetics in adapting to climate change. She mentioned, “Genetics offers a chance to choose animals better suited to evolving environmental conditions, ensuring productivity while reducing emissions.”

This seven-year project, partially financed by the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund, is set to continue until 2029. 

With a funding boost of $10.5 million, the collaboration will facilitate benchmarking, breed comparisons, and research into new traits. The goal is to cultivate fine-wool and no-wool sheep breeds in New Zealand.

On Pāmu’s Aratiatia farm, near Taupō, a fine-wool breeding flock is being studied alongside a control Romney line. The research focuses on various attributes in a temperate climate setting, including production, reproduction, survival, and disease resistance.

AgResearch is also contributing significantly to the programme. Dr. Tricia Johnson, the team leader of animal genomics at AgResearch, is collaborating to explore genetic variations in no-wool and fine-wool breeds. 

Furthermore, a feasibility study led by AgResearch’s Dr. Kathryn McRae aims to develop a measurement tool for immune competence in sheep.

Another project segment targets the creation of sheep suitable for sub-tropical regions, emphasising meat production. This involves establishing a no-wool breeding flock at Pāmu’s Kapiro farm in Kerikeri, with research focusing on traits like production, reproduction, and disease resistance. 

A crucial outcome of this research will be a method to measure heat tolerance, which is vital in the face of increasingly extreme weather conditions.

Jim Inglis of Pāmu expressed that the initiative, which took three years of meticulous planning, aims to introduce innovative traits beneficial to all New Zealand breeders. 

He emphasised the collective endeavour of industry stakeholders and researchers in shaping the future of sheep-based production systems in the country.