The challenges are to improve the quality and efficiency of primary lamb production and build new objective data feedback from meat processor to farmer on carcass quality and animal health phenotypes. Only around half of UK-produced lambs meet the target EUROP conformation and fat classification specification resulting in waste at the farm and processor levels. Farmers are not rewarded for producing higher quality lamb carcasses, for example with higher saleable meat yield, or a greater proportion of higher value cuts such as the loin. Crucially, genetic improvement is undertaken in purebred flocks with a 'disconnect' between their crossbred progeny performance and carcass data from the abattoir, which could potentially inform selection decisions further up the breeding 'pyramid' in the purebred sector. Additionally, improving carcass quality and yield in lambs must be undertaken without compromising their own health and welfare, and that of their purebred sires and dams (as it is likely that these two groups of traits are antagonistic at a genetic level). It is also important because some 1.75 million ewes (52.5%) that were mated to Texel sires were mated to sires from which replacements were retained for breeding (2012 figures).
This livestock genomics project addresses key issues in primary livestock production by collecting, analysing, and exploiting state-of-the art genomic and new phenotypic data from meat sheep on hard to measure (HTM) traits. Building on the existing infrastructure of phenotype farms, data collection protocols and success of the current Agritech Catalyst project 'Using genomic technologies to reduce mastitis in meat sheep' (Innovate Project no. 131791), we will extend the range of HTM phenotypes to include abattoir-derived disease and condemnation data with new carcass and meat quality data in pure and crossbred Texel lambs. We will use Computer Tomography (CT) and newly-created Visual Image Assessment (VIA) and carcass condemnation data to exploit the information to generate wealth using single nucleotide ('SNP') genomic technology. By combining HTM disease and meat quality traits in tandem, we can ensure that genomic selection for carcass merit in crossbred Texel lambs does not take place by compromising disease status in the breeding ewe population.
The aim is to use genomic technology to sell genomically-enhanced rams for exploitation and put in place the provision of a new genomic service for the future sheep breeding programmes in the wider industry. This will help the UK to become a world leader in agricultural technology, innovation and sustainability by exploiting new opportunities to develop and adopt new genomic technology, to increase productivity, and contribute to global food security.
The project will use new technology and data capture systems to drive new information-led breeding structures on novel, economically-important traits for sustainable breeding of meat sheep. The results of the project will enable farmers to have clearer market (price) signals that adequately reflect the commercial value of their lambs produced, so that a higher proportion of lamb carcasses better meet the required specifications for lamb carcass quality and health. In this way, the UK's food security for lamb meat production will be enhanced, as will export-driven demand for high quality meat. The project will pioneer the use of visual imaging technology for sheep meat in the UK, and through benchmarking it alongside estimates of carcass composition (using CT), the commercial partner, Anglo Beef Processors (ABP) gain commercial intelligence that, ultimately, will be manifested throughout the sheep meat sector.