Breeding for tolerance to worms for the future of sheep farming in England

We are excited to share with you our collaboration with CIEL, The Moredun Foundation and Castle Veterinary Group LTD. We will be completing a project that aims to demonstrate the benefits of breeding worm tolerance in sheep. We are passionate about bringing an efficient, sustainable grass-based sheep farming system to the UK, and we believe that breeding worm-tolerant sheep is the way forward for the sheep industry.

Anthelmintic resistance is becoming a growing problem, and our project seeks to identify and exploit genetic variation. By breeding from rams with genetic tolerance to worms, farms could benefit by introducing worm-tolerant genetics into their flock. Breeding worm-tolerant sheep should lead to improved growth rates and financial returns while reducing anthelmintic use. This approach will reduce the need for drenching, and therefore reduce associated labour costs and improve sheep welfare and production.

We have sourced genetics from New Zealand flocks selected for worm tolerance for over 20 years. The project, titled “Breeding for tolerance to worms for the future of sheep farming in England”, has been awarded funding through Defra’s Farming Innovation Programme, managed by Innovate UK. The project aims to tackle the problem of parasitic gastroenteritis (gut worms) in sheep to help farmers both farm more efficiently and reduce environmental impact.

The pilot study

In this pilot study, we will complete benchmark comparison testing between two groups of lambs `with` and `without` the use of wormers. We will monitor their growth rates and their health and welfare to identify if some animals can maintain their growth rate and health at an economic rate without the use of wormer. Trials will help define the system needed to breed rams with genetic tolerance to worms, which can be sold to commercial farms wanting such genetics.

Welfare will be constantly assessed as measured by performance and observation. The time that trial group lambs get drenched will be taken into account when performing subsequent statistical analysis. By the end of the study, those lambs that tolerated a gastrointestinal worm burden by maintaining adequate growth rates without being wormed will be classed as the most tolerant.

Sharing the research findings is crucial to help the sector move forward. Throughout this study, the team will be publishing updates and holding events. The preliminary study aims to demonstrate that variation in worm tolerance exists in UK sheep. Subsequently, the plan is to identify the most efficient system for breeding genetically superior, worm-tolerant sheep and a strategy for getting these out across the industry quickly and widely.

We believe that this approach to using genetics could potentially be replicated in many ram breeding flocks and once proven should be encouraged, to promote the use of productive, high-welfare sheep genetics. The sheep industry could ultimately benefit from lower input & labour costs associated with managing worm infections. Proving the effectiveness of breeding for worm tolerance will also reduce animal stress and environmental impacts associated with worming.

Thank you for taking the time to learn about our project. We are excited about the potential benefits this project can bring to our farm and the sheep industry as a whole. Please stay tuned for updates on our progress!

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