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Breeding worm-resistant sheep

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Breeding worm-resistant sheep

Genetic selection can be used to increase a sheep’s resistance and resilience to worms. Resistance can result in fewer drenches being required each year and resilient sheep can better tolerate worms. The best way to increase the genetic resistance of your flock to worms is to use rams with better than average worm resistance. Currently, there are no commercially available tests to select for resilience.

What is the difference between resistance and resilience?

Resistance to worms

Sheep that are resistant to worms can prevent some or all worms from establishing and as a result have lower worm egg counts.

Resilience to worms

Sheep that are resilient to worms can grow and produce with less ill effects from worms. An animal’s performance for a particular trait, such as growth, will also be dictated by its genetic merit for that trait. So, when comparing two animals with similar Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for growth, a more resilient animal will perform better than a less resilient animal when both have high worm burdens. It is independent of worm resistance so must be selected separately by choosing better production performance.

Drench resistance

Drench resistance is the ability of a worm to resist the effects of a drench. Note that drench resistance is a characteristic of the worm and differs from a sheep’s resilience and resistance to worms.

Dag or Scouring

The propensity to scour has a substantial genetic component that is independent of both resistance and resilience to worms. To reduce dag/scouring select for low dag score and or low moisture levels in faeces independently to selection for low worm egg count.

How can a ram be selected for worm resistance?

1. Choose a stud that provides Australian Sheep Breeding Values for worm egg counts (WEC ASBV) and dag (DAG ASBV). Include selection against dag only where scouring is an issue.

  • Raw WEC values alone are not reliable enough to use in selection as they do not account for environmental differences or pedigree data (which are included in WEC ASBVs).

2. Ensure that selection for worm resistance and dag is balanced with other performance traits.

  • Select better than average WEC and DAG ASBV, i.e. choose the more negative values for both traits.
  • At the same time, select better than average ASBVs for performance traits that are important to you. A compromise regarding the various traits will be required.
    Note: When extra traits are included in a selection program, the progress that can be made with each individual trait will decrease slightly, however progress with your breeding objective can still be high.

3. Choose the WEC ASBV age that corresponds to the time of most worm-challenge on your property, e.g. weaning (WWEC), post-weaning (PWEC), yearling (YWEC).

What are Australian Sheep Breeding Values?

ASBVs are an estimate of an animal’s genetic merit rather than its visual or phenotypic merit. The effects of factors such as birth type, dam age, nutrition and management are removed to reveal an animal’s genetic breeding value: what can be passed onto its progeny. ASBVs are calculated and reported by Sheep Genetics, the national genetic analysis service for the sheep industry. Ram breeders who are members of MERINOSELECT or LAMBPLAN will have WEC ASBVs available for their sheep if they are measuring WEC.

For more detailed information on using Australian Sheep Breeding Values, go to the Sheep Genetics website.