EFFECTIVE use of DNA technology can reduce the chance of breeding horned Merino rams by 80% in just one year and completely remove the horn gene from the flock in just seven years, according to new data from Australia's Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC).
Through its "Information Nucleus Flock," the Sheep CRC has researched the effects of various DNA testing regimes for breeding out the presence of the genes responsible for horns on Merinos.
The modeling revealed that DNA testing just the rams used in a breeding program will quickly reduce the number of horned sheep and eventually lead to the removal of the horn gene from a poll flock in approximately 20 years. The gene can be removed even faster if producers choose the more expensive option of testing both rams and ewes, the announcement said.
"The development of horns in sheep appears to be controlled by a single gene for which there is good DNA marker," Sheep CRC chief executive professor James Rowe said.
"The new genomic test for the horn gene means that, in poll flocks, we can avoid breeding from rams that are carriers of the horn gene," Rowe said. "Commercial producers have expressed a preference for polled Merinos, and as a result, the stud market is delivering a clear price differential of as much as $200 (Australian) in favor of polled rams. At $17 per DNA test, there is a clear return on investment for breeders and ram buyers wanting polled Merinos."
Operating as part of the Australia federal Department of Innovation Industry Science & Research CRC program, the Sheep CRC is a collaboration of the industry, government and commercial sector. It works to increase the productivity and profitability of the sheep industry through the adoption of new technologies in both the meat and wool supply chains.
More information on DNA testing for horn/poll is available from the Sheep CRC website at www.sheepcrc.org.au.