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2015 Autumn - From Little Data Big Data Grow

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FPJ1201D - Rowe, J & Banks, R (2015), Sheep Industry Productivity – the Role of Genomics and Digital Data

Rowe, J, Banks, R (2015), Sheep Industry Productivity – the Role of Genomics and Digital Data, Farm Policy Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, Autumn Quarter, pp. 21-31, Surry Hills, Australia

ISSN 1449–2210 (Print)

ISSN 1449–8812 (Web) 

As the sheep industry moves from focusing on wool production as its primary economic driver to the current situation where both sheep meat and wool are of similar importance, the challenge to maintain genetic improvement is significantly more complex. Selection for increased wool income only needs to focus on fleece weight and fibre diameter. Both parameters are easily measured and highly heritable. However, balanced ‘sheep’ production involves selection for increased reproductive efficiency and improved carcase characteristics as well as continued selection for wool traits. The sheep industry also has to breed for resistance to parasite due to the need to stop mulesing and the increasing problem of worm resistance to chemical drenches.
This paper focuses on three initiatives that are contributing to transformation of the sheep industry: genomic technologies; data management and skills development. Genomic technologies enable fast and well-balanced genetic gain, particularly when difficult to measure traits such as reproduction, parasite resistance and carcase characteristics are so important. Prediction of breeding values, based on DNA analysis, relies on calibration using large numbers of animals measured for all traits of interest. Cost-effective measurement of phenotypic parameters is therefore essential for genomic technologies. The development of automated and semi-automated measurement of production and carcase characteristics, combined with wireless data transfer and cloud-based computing, provide complimentary technologies to support the development and use of genomics.
Efficient data capture and its effective use also underpins improved productivity through better management and value-based supply chain transactions. Targeted training and skills development is the third component required to ensure that the sheep industry exploits the transformative and interlinked technologies of genetics and digital data.



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