Breakthrough with footrot EBV

A major breakthrough in the FeetFirst project has provided ram breeders with a new tool to predict an animal’s genetic resistance to footrot.  It differs from previous tests in that it uses information from across the whole genome, rather than a single gene.  It builds on estimated breeding value (EBV) technology, combining phenotypic and genomic information into a single breeding value for footrot resistance.  

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Managing ewe body condition

Getting hands-on with monitoring your ewes' body condition is a more effective way of identifying the sheep that you need to prioritise feed for than drafting by eye. Giving each ewe a body condition score (BCS) at key times throughout the breeding cycle – weaning, mating, scanning, set stocking and tailing – is a quick and effective way to ensure that the right ewes are getting the additional feed that they need.

We have put together a fact sheet on the benefits of optimising ewe body condition and a simple guide for monitoring how close your ewes are to the optimum BCS of three. 

Feel free to contact the NZM production science team if you would like to learn more about condition scoring and the positive impact it can have on your ewe flock's overall productivity. Click here for more information about ewe nutrition. 

Rejuvenating clovers on uncultivable hill country

The New Zealand Merino Company, with the assistance of Dick Arnst, ran a trial at Glentanner Station to investigate the effectiveness of glyphosate and haloxyfop-P in controlling low-quality grass species and promoting the existing, naturalised clovers.

Chemical topping can be an effective way to reduce competition from low quality grasses, allowing the resident clovers to re-establish. Following the spray treatment with good grazing management, and allowing the clover to set-seed and regenerate, will allow long-term persistence. Click here for more information. 

Stonyhurst takes out Supreme Award at Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards

NZM would like to congratulate the Douglas-Clifford family of Stonyhurst in North Canterbury, who were named winners of the Supreme Award at the 2017 Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards. The award recognises their ongoing preservation and enhancement of Stonyhurst's natural resources, as well as the success of their sheep, beef and deer farming operations. 

In addition, the Douglas-Cliffords won the Massey University Innovation Award, the Hill Laboratories Harvest Award and the Farm Stewardship Award in partnership with QEII National Trust and New Zealand Farm Environment Trust. For more information, click here and here.



Update from the central progeny test

We shared the latest data, including estimated breeding values (EBVs), for the CPT sires at an Open Day on 14 February 2017. Click on the links below for more information:

These EBVs were current as at 24 January 2017 and were based on all known data for the rams (and all known relatives) where this information has been submitted to Sheep Genetics for analysis.

We have also included links below to two handy tools for using EBVs. Contact Skye Rutherford if you would like copies sent to you by post.

Contact Mark Ferguson in the NZM Production Science team if you would like to discuss your personal breeding objective and the traits that are likely to be most important for your particular production system.

Individual Animal Management - Hannah Marriott's Nuffield Scholarship Report

As part of Hannah Marriott's Nuffield Scholarship in 2014, she visited NZM and several of our growers to find out more about the potential for technology like EID to enable more profitable farming through more effective breeding selection and management decisions. You can check out the Executive Summary and Recommendations below - or click here for the full report.

Executive Summary

  • The need to combine on-farm productivity gains with specifications of the end product is more important than ever as the demand for consistently safe, high quality and ethically-grown food increases. Productivity gains on farm are a mainstream way to increase profit under a largely commodity-driven pricing structure. However, in the absence of adequate and accurate product feedback, productivity gains alone could limit the ability to produce product to market specification. Linking feedback on the products being produced in the sheep industry (lamb, wool and sheep meat) back to production and reproduction is very important. Current technology such as electronic identification (EID) can facilitate such linkages in a simple, practical and cost effective way.
  • A focus on the full range of animal performance data - rather than the average - through Individual Animal Management (IAM) allows for more accurate identification of superior and inferior stock. This information can be used to make precise decisions around genetics and nutrition. For example, the top 25% of ewes can be more than twice as efficient as the bottom 25% of ewes, under identical management. Therefore, having the ability to identify the animals that fall below the average on an economic measure allows for greater gains through more precise selection pressure.
  • Matching a ewe to her progeny, using EID, will enable a weaned litter weight to be correlated to her. Currently Pedigree Match Maker (PMM) is the most efficient commercially available tool for matching ewe and lamb. Work is being done on creating a sensor tag which will remotely link ewe and lamb through near field technology. This will be an area that will continue to evolve.
  • A ewe efficiency index can be calculated if the liveweight of the ewe and weaning weight of the lamb(s) is collected. This is a key profit driver, which can be optimised, and enables greater selection pressure by producing surplus replacement ewes. It also supports selection of favourable component traits including fertility, number of lambs born, lamb survival, lactation and lamb growth rate.
  • Individual Animal Management in a commercial setting requires a resource commitment and must be practical. Data collection should be integrated as part of the annual management calendar to ensure greatest efficiency in time. Typical measurements that align with annual animal husbandry are pregnancy scanning, liveweight and condition score, sex of the lamb, age of the dam, lamb marking weight and weaning weight, wool cut, sire group (and their genetics) and matching ewe and lamb.


  • Look at the full range in animal performance data as well as the average, and identify animals below average.
  • Use a combination of visual and objective assessment to allow underperforming animals on a commercial basis to be identified and culled from the main breeding flock.
  • Estimate ewe efficiency by linking ewe and progeny, recording weight of lambs at weaning and correlating this to the ewe liveweight. Further work needs to be done on remotely linking ewes and lambs to identify the most productive ewes.
  • Streamline data collection to only include what is needed as defined by the KPIs of the business. Use this information to link product feedback with on-farm production.
  • Implement the use of ASBVs when introducing genetics into the flock and target areas most limiting profitability.
  • Add carcass traits to the selection criteria in Merino breeding systems to optimise returns from meat and wool.

Click here for more about NZM growers using EID to unlock greater potential in their sheep farming businesses. 

NZM Open Day and AGM

Close to 100 people from the NZM grower community joined us in Omarama on 25 October 2016 for the NZM Open Day & AGM.

The Open Day included updates on:

  • NZM's future focus and strategy
  • NZSTX outputs across fibre, meat and production science
  • Brand partner perspectives: Francesco Botto Poala (Reda) & Nicola Simpson (Icebreaker)
  • SILERE and the new partnership with Alliance
  • NZM's Board of Directors
  • The fine-wool central progeny test 

Click here for the handout from the central progeny test site visit.

Investigation into the effectiveness of the Lincoln footrot gene marker test

As part of the FeetFirst project (which is co-funded by NZM, Merino Inc and the Ministry for Primary Industries through NZSTX) we have undertaken an evaluation of the Lincoln footrot gene marker test (LFGMT) in collaboration with AGBU and AgResearch.  

A summary of the results can be found here. In this document, the relationship between the LFGMT and the incidence and severity of footrot in rams and their progeny is explored. 

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. For more information, contact Dr Mark Ferguson.

Using smart-sensor technology to monitor sheep behaviour, health and wellbeing

NZM's three-year collaborative Sensing Wellbeing project aims to utilise smart-sensor technology to remotely monitor sheep behaviour, health and wellbeing. While the trials are only in the early stages at the moment, the longer-term aim is to monitor animal welfare in real-time across an extensive farming situation.

If successful, Sensing Wellbeing will deliver a whole new level of understanding about sheep behaviour, and will make it possible to detect animal welfare issues (such as misadventure, injury or illness) earlier than is usually possible in extensive production systems.

The first phase of the project is focused on identifying reliable (and measurable) behavioural patterns to determine the wellbeing of sheep. The next stage involves developing and trialling monitoring systems with the potential to be scalable in extensive sheep production systems. 

The on-farm work is supported by consumer insights research that highlights the animal health and welfare issues that matter to consumers. 

 Monitoring ewes and lambs as part of the on-farm parturition trial. 

Monitoring ewes and lambs as part of the on-farm parturition trial. 

New Zealand Grassland Association: Hill Country Symposium

The New Zealand Grassland Association's Hill Country Symposium showcased research from across the industry, generating wide-ranging discussions about the future of hill country systems in New Zealand. 

The pastoral industry Forage Strategy Steering Group was launched as part of the symposium. The group aims to increase the productivity of New Zealand grazing systems, and key players from across the pastoral sector are investing in the group.

Click here for the papers from the symposium.