DATA collected from carcasses in abattoirs could soon be included in genetic evaluations via a new genomic research project led by the British Texel Sheep Society, according to chief executive, John Yates.

Part funded by Innovate UK, the £1.6m project aims to accelerate developments in sheep breeding and will lead to the development of genomic estimated breeding values (GEBVs) for key carcass traits in the Texel breed.

“This project, which is being undertaken in collaboration with Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and processor ABP, is a big step for the society and will use both computer tomography (CT scanning) and video image analysis (VIA) to generate extensive data on carcass characteristics," said Mr Yates.

“Through the three-year course of the project thousands of Texel-sired lamb carcasses will be analysed by a combination of CT scanning and VIA to provide detailed information on the relative lean meat yields, with CT proxy traits used to provide meat quality indicators. The data will then be analysed to develop carcass trait GEBVs for the Texel breed, providing unique information for breeders and ram buyers to make future selections on,” he said.

The research project will introduce a nucleus of recorded commercial producer phenotyping farms providing Texel-sired lambs to the processor, with these linked back to pedigree Texel nucleus flocks already participating in the society’s network of ‘pedigree phenotyping farms’. These have already been used to health traits for both mastitis and footrot.

This, according to SRUC livestock geneticist Joanne Conington, makes the Texel the first meat sheep breed in Europe to embrace genomic selection.

“Having more information with which to select breeding animals, gives breeders flexibility to favour animals with specific attributes that better meet market specifications, as well as improving host resistance to economically-important, endemic diseases,” she added.

Meanwhile, ABP's Richard Phelps said the the processor was excited to be working with both the Texel Sheep Society and SRUC to deliver potentially groundbreaking new breeding information.

“The UK sheep industry is likely to face significant pressures in the coming years and breeding prime lambs better suited to market demands will be essential for farmers to maximise returns.

“Using technologies such as CT scanning and VIA as tools in this research and development project and linking commercial carcass data back to pedigree breeders is an exciting first step on the road to improved communication across the sheep industry.”

There is currently a significant disconnect between carcass slaughter data and the breeding sector which provides the genetics for commercial sheep producers, said Mr Yates.

“Linking carcass information provided through this project with phenotyping flocks will enable improved feedback of data and shorten links between commercial and pedigree breeders.

Additionally, the study will record and analyse carcass condemnation data and examine links between phenotype, genetics and management for a number of key diseases, he explained.

“This carcass condemnation data will feedback essential flock health information on resilience at the commercial flock and breed level. It is hoped this information will help identify the genetic components to some key diseases and, potentially, guide future breeding decisions with a view to helping reduce reliance on key veterinary medicines, including antimicrobials, which is a significant goal for the industry.”