Footrot Research Project

Since 2013 NZM has been working on an ambitious project (FeetFirst) to develop an estimated breeding value (EBV) for footrot.

Footrot project video update - June 2019

Seven years ago, NZM initiated the fine-wool Central Progeny Test, which is a key source of the data required to develop an estimated breeding value (EBV) for footrot. Since then, the fine-wool industry has built a footrot breeding value (BV) database containing 32,000 sheep with reportable breeding values. In the 2018 / 19 sale season there were 4,500 (2017-born) stud ram hoggets in the industry with a footrot BV available.

See the video below for an update on the project, and click here for a written summary of the video.

What is the FeetFirst project?

The overall objective of FeetFirst is to raise fine-wool sheep productivity, as well as enable new growers in higher rainfall areas to transition to fine-wool sheep, by developing a new tool for identifying animals with better genetic resistance to footrot.

Utilising genomics, pedigree and physical data, the FeetFirst project is developing an estimated breeding value (EBV) for footrot resistance in fine-wool sheep. Breeders will be able to use the EBV to predict an animal's genetic resistance to footrot when making breeding selections. 

FeetFirst is led by The New Zealand Merino Company, and co-funded by Merino New Zealand Incorporated (Merino Inc.) and the Ministry for Primary Industries. 

Click here for the 2017 summary of the project's progress from Dr. Mark Ferguson.

Central progeny test results

A core component of the central progeny test (CPT) is to determine the genetic resistance of rams to footrot by testing the performance of their progeny in the same environment. Each year, all of the wether hoggets from the CPT are exposed to footrot at the same time. Once a challenge has been established in the mob, each hoof of each animal is scored using a 0 to 5 scale (click here for more information). Using this data, breeding values for footrot resistance are generated for the sire of each progeny group. With each year of the CPT, we are building a bigger, richer data set, which is improving the accuracy of the footrot breeding value - not only for the rams entered in the CPT, but for their relatives also.

We add the CPT data to the data collected from the individual studs that challenge their stud flock for footrot, along with the original FeetFirst data that was collected from commercial flocks from 2013 to 2015 and the data from the ram challenge that NZM and AgResearch undertook in 2013-14.

Investigation into the effectiveness of the Lincoln footrot gene marker test

As part of the wider FeetFirst project, we undertook an evaluation of the relationship between the Lincoln footrot gene marker test (LFGMT) and the incidence and severity of footrot in rams and their progeny. A summary of the results can be found here

While the evaluation did not find a strong relationship between the LFGMT and resistance to footrot, the positive news for the industry is that the wider FeetFirst project is showing that there is exploitable genetic variation in the resistance of fine-wool sheep to footrot in the New Zealand sheep population. By shifting the focus from a gene marker test to a breeding value, the New Zealand fine-wool industry will soon have a more accurate tool to successfully breed for increasing tolerance to footrot. 

More from the FeetFirst team

Update from Professor Herman Raadsma and Dr Mark Ferguson on the FeetFirst project

Listen to Dr Mark Ferguson explain the expanded role the central progeny test (CPT) is playing in the FeetFirst project. Click here for more information.

Listen to Dr Mark Ferguson talk about the genetics of footrot and why we're developing a new genetic test to build more resistance to the disease in New Zealand's fine wool sheep. Click here for more information.

FeetFirst update – March 2015

FeetFirst update – March 2015

FeetFirst update – May 2014

FeetFirst update – May 2014

FeetFirst update – July 2014

FeetFirst update – July 2014

FeetFirst update – January 2014

FeetFirst update – January 2014