This month’s iTexel Conference will give attendees a chance to hear how ongoing research could help farmers breed sheep with greater resistance to key diseases, potentially reducing antibiotic use.
The conference, which takes place at the North Lakes Hotel, Penrith, on Saturday 17 November and is free for Texel Sheep Society members*, will feature a number of speakers who have been involved in the Texel Sheep Society’s groundbreaking genomic research in to both footrot and mastitis.
Texel Sheep Society chief executive John Yates said recent figures from DEFRA had revealed that antibiotic use in livestock had fallen by 18% between 2016 and 2017, with a 29% reduction in sales of the highest priority critically-important antibiotics – those deemed vital for human health.
“This is excellent news as antimicrobial resistance poses a huge challenge to modern medicine and mis-use on farms could, potentially, speed up the development of resistance.
“The Society’s research in to the genetic variations responsible for resistance to footrot and mastitis is providing data for the development of genomic breeding values for both these key diseases which can have a significant economic and welfare impact on sheep,” he explained.
“Estimates suggest each case of footrot costs more than £8 a ewe, with further lost productivity costs amounting up to £3 a ewe. Additionally, it is believed the industry loses 7-12% of breeding ewes a year due to intramammary infections.”
By developing genomic breeding values (GBVs) within the Texel breed, it is hoped farmers will be able to breed stock with greater resistance to these conditions delivering benefits to commercial farmers and across the industry, he adds.
Conference speaker SRUC geneticist Joanne Conington, has identified a number of gene variants responsible for foot-rot resistance already and believes breeding for resistance will lead to better welfare and higher returns, as well as reducing reliance on antibiotics.
She will be joined by fellow SRUC researchers Neil Clelland who will discuss the Society’s research in to meat eating quality and carcass composition.
As well as reducing costs through lower disease challenge it is important sheep producers looking to profit in the post-Brexit era ensure they are producing lambs with the potential to appeal to added value markets, said Mr Yates.
“Meeting consumer expectations in terms of eating quality is set to become increasingly important going forward to ensure lamb remains a protein of choice for much of the population.”
Meanwhile, Perthshire-based Texel breeder Neil McGowan will give delegates an insight in to his Nuffield Scholarship which examined the challenge of managing large scale breeding programmes in beef and sheep systems across the world.
“Maximising genetic gain in pedigree flocks is essential to ensure the breeding sector can provide the animals needed in the commercial sector and while the UK sheep industry is undoubtedly different to many others around the globe there are lessons that can be learnt in how breeding objectives can be shared between the pedigree and commercial sectors,” said Mr Yates.
Following the same theme will be Tim Byrne from AbacusBio who will discuss breeding objectives in an era of transformational breeding technologies. “As the breeding sector moves towards a genomic era it is important that everyone in the industry understands the potential impact this technology could have on future breeding programmes.”
Places for the conference cost £20, including refreshments and lunch, and are available on a strictly first come, first served basis and can be reserved by completing the booking form on the Society’s website – www.texel.uk/itexel
*Texel Sheep Society members are eligible for one free ticket per membership and those attending will receive a full refund of the ticket price after the conference.