Meat & Livestock News

The Vision for Future Sheep Breeding in New Zealand

New Zealand’s agricultural sector is embarking on an ambitious journey to revolutionise sheep genetics. Pāmu, in collaboration with the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), Focus Genetics (a subsidiary of Pāmu), and with backing from AgResearch, has initiated the ‘Sheep of the Future’ programme. This seven-year initiative, set to run until 2029, is partially funded by the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures fund and has secured an investment of $10.5 million.

The programme’s primary objectives include:

  • Developing sheep with finer wool (20-25 microns) suitable for regions beyond the traditional Merino habitats.
  • Enhancing strong wool breeds to bolster disease resistance.
  • Promoting low-input traits to reduce farming costs.
  • Prioritising breeding for improved growth, meat quality, and reduced methane emissions.

Natalie Pickering, the programme manager from Focus Genetics, emphasised the role of genetics in adapting to climate change. She highlighted the potential of selecting sheep that can withstand heat and diseases while maintaining productivity and minimising emissions.

Key projects under the programme include:

  • Research at Pāmu’s Aratiatia farm near Taupō, focusing on fine-wool breeding and environmental assessments.
  • Collaboration with Dr Tricia Johnson from AgResearch to study genetic variations in no-wool and fine-wool breeds.
  • AgResearch’s Dr. Kathryn McRae led a feasibility study to develop a tool for measuring sheep’s immune competence.
  • Initiatives at Pāmu’s Kapiro farm in Kerikeri to produce sheep suitable for sub-tropical climates, emphasising meat production and heat tolerance.

Jim Inglis of Pāmu highlighted the extensive planning behind the project and its aim to benefit breeders across New Zealand. He also mentioned the integration of various breeds into the research to enhance genetic diversity. The findings from this programme will be incorporated into New Zealand’s national sheep evaluation programme, NProve, managed by Beef+Lamb NZ, ensuring accessibility for all farmers.

Inglis concluded by recognising the collective efforts of industry stakeholders and researchers in shaping the future of sheep-based production systems in New Zealand.