The Texel Sheep Society is at the forefront of the sheep industry and is actively involved in a wide range of breed development activities, including the expansion of performance recording and the development of novel genomic indices for a number of key health traits.
Texel-Pure Performance is the backbone of improving genetic progress in the UK sheep industry, with the Texel breed contributing 29% of the sires used across UK flocks and being the sire of 12% of the crossbred ewes in the country too.
Through performance recording Texel breeders are able to identify the best breeding in their flocks and the breed as a whole and deliver increasingly better sires to their commercial customers.
Ram buyers are then able to select rams with superior breeding potential for traits of interest to them in developing their flocks.
Performance recorded flocks weigh their lambs at birth, eight weeks and 21 weeks old as well as ultrasound scanning eye muscle depth and backfat depth at the same age.
Breeders can also submit lambs for CT scanning helping increase the accuracy and value of their performance recording.
Through Texel-Pure Performance pedigree breeders can increase their flocks' rate of genetic progress by indentifying ram lambs suitable for use as stock sires, making more informed breeding decisions and selecting female replacements.
Additionally, breeders are better able to market their stock, with performance recording giving buyers more confidence in their ram purchases and being able to compare rams between flocks more easily.
Commercial buyers benefit as a result of being empowered to select rams best suited to their production systems, seeking out sires with high scan weight EBVs to increase carcass weights and reduce days to slaughter, while high muscle depth EBVs help enhance carcass conformation and increase lean meat yield.
Importantly too, as commercial producers aim to finish as many lambs from grass and forage as possible rams with positive fat EBVs help commercial buyers breed lambs with greater natural fleshing ability.
Selecting rams based on individual trait EBVs means both pedigree and commercial buyers can identify the best sheep to meet their breeding criteria.
Crucially, DEFRA funded trials have shown that high index rams can both increase carcass weight and reduce days to slaughter giving a benefit of £2.50-£3 a lamb.
As an extension of the already existing performance recording tools available the Texel Sheep Society is, through its Gene-Tex initiative, also embracing the rapidly emerging technology of genomics and has a number of projects underway in this field.
In 2013 the Society adopted two novel techniques to assist in widesacle parentage verification to its flock book. This included a welfare friendly nasal sampling device for the routine collection of DNA from over 1000 animals per year, all of which are candidate stock involved in Embryo Transfer. Additionally the Society pioneered the use of the global parentage pnale developing using SNP Chip technology. This allowed the Society to bypass the need for use of microsatlelites technology routinely used by many breed organisations.
In 2014,the largest project being undertaken by the Society is a study in to the genomics of mastitis in meat sheep which is being conducted across both pedigree and commercial flocks the length and breadth of the UK and designed to identify those bloodlines that are more resistant to mastitis.
Like many other diseases, mastitis has a genetic component to resistance. Using the very latest genome screening techniques the research will identify bloodlines of sheep that are more resistant to mastitis.
The project will create a valuable enhancement to the Society's dataset by including disease phenotypes. Initially this will focus on mastitis, but the intention is to include additional traits such as footrot and faecal egg counts.
The availability of new genomic 'SNP chip' technology for sheep that is specific to mastitis and tailored for use in the Texel breed will propel the Society and its breeders in to the genomic era.
Using genomics to identify bloodlines resistant to key diseases will enable breeders to pursue breeding objectives allied to the requirements of the commercial sheep producers, combining key productivity and health traits in their future breeding plans.
The second genomics project being undertaken by the Society is a wide scale sire genotyping study to provide increased integrity to the Texel flock book and ensure accuracy in compilation of pedigree and the calculation of EBVs.
While the aim of this project is to protect the breed and brand identity by parentage verification it will also interact with the mastitis genomics project to help develop genomic selection criteria to enable Texel breeders to use all the tools at their disposal to breed sheep suited to the modern commercial market.
This technology will have a direct impact on the Society's breed development strategies, and assist the Society in using new breeding tools to exploit the extensive and expanding knowledge of the breed.