E-sheep helps match up pedigrees

Ewes and lambs, fitted with electronic ear tags, during the trial at the Centre Plus stud at Tullamore.

Ewes and lambs, fitted with electronic ear tags,
during the trial at the Centre Plus stud at Tullamore.

A new low cost technique for helping sheep producers identify and improve flock genetics shows great promise, according to the results of a preliminary research trial conducted by NSW Department of Primary Industries’ sheep researchers.

Developed by DPI’s e-sheep research team and the Mortimer family at Tullamore, working in conjunction with the Sheep Cooperative Research Centre, the trial involved recording data from 64 lambs and 52 ewes fitted with electronic ear tags over about 4 weeks.

The one-week-old lambs – all of known pedigree - were tracked after they were removed from their lambing paddock.

Given that lambs generally follow their genetic mothers, the researchers sought to establish scientifically whether ewes and their lambs could be associated by their proximity on a sequential reading of electronic tag ID numbers recorded at a single point.

More than 17 300 ID numbers were recorded and the data was 'scored' for the association of each ewe with a following lamb. This found that 60 of the 64 lambs being correctly allocated to their mother.

DPI e-sheep research leader, Dr Kevin Atkins, said the initial estimates of accuracy were considerably higher than anticipated.

'For the pilot we worked with sheep of known pedigree at the CentrePlus stud at Tullamore.

'We propose this method could be used in situations where full pedigrees are not known, and to this end plan to conduct further trials in the near future.'

Dr Atkins said determining pedigree in sheep flocks is an expensive and time-consuming process.

'The cost often stops producers from managing flock genetics, particularly on the maternal side.

'In the long run, this technique could be a powerful yet inexpensive way of tracking and improving breeding lines,' Dr Atkins said.

Further information

Contact: Kevin Atkins, DPI Orange on 02 6391 3816.

Media contact: Joanne Finlay on 0428 491 813 or 02 6391 3171.

Digital images available on request.