Breeding FE tolerance into your flock

Have you considered breeding FE tolerance into your commercial flock? B+LNZ Genetics extension officer Max Tweedie talks you through where to start.
Monday, 3 October 2016

This year’s facial eczema (FE) outbreak has prompted a lot of discussion about how to reduce its impact in future. If you want to breed FE tolerance into your flock, here’s how to do it.

1. Research the breeders

How do you choose a breeder?

  1. Visit the Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL) website and search for "2015 RamGuard FE flocks". Download this list and study the number of stars against each breeder and the number of years they have been RamGuard testing. In both cases – stars and years – more is better. FE Gold flocks are the leading flocks.
  2. Now go to FlockFinder – on the SIL website or as a smartphone app – to identify the breeders that have the other traits important to you and are recording for FE tolerance.
  3. When you have a list of likely breeders, cross-reference it back to your RamGuard list (see point 1). Why? Because FlockFinder will only tell you who is "recording" for FE tolerance. So you need to be clear about where they are at, in terms of stars and years.

2. Contact the breeders that look like a match for your operation.

Ask two initial questions:

  1. Do they use genomic tools to enhance their breeding programme?
  2. Can they supply “FE tolerance genetic trend graphs” (or DPX genetic trend graphs)? It’s one thing to be measuring; it’s another to be improving. Is the breeder moving FE tolerance in the right direction?

When you are satisified you have identified the best breeder for your operation – taking into account your overall basket of traits – then it is time to consider individual rams.

3. Choosing a ram

This is straightforward. When you turn up to purchase your rams, simply ask to see the rams’ DPX indexes. This is specific to FE and tells you the dollar advantage a ram will deliver to your flock. The higher the figure, the more the dollar advantage. Then continue to select your rams as you normally would – using a mix of genetic data, visual assessment and price.

Expect to pay more for FE tolerant rams – particularly this year, because there is a shortage of rams versus demand.

4. Stick with that breeder

Having found a breeder that’s right for you, stick with them for as long as possible. This is critical, if you are serious about introducing FE tolerance into your commercial flock.

If you changed your whole ram team to high DPX rams from top FE tolerance breeders today, it would still take at least six years before you would see any significant FE tolerance across your flock. So sit tight for the long haul.