Location: Livestock Bio-Systems
Project Number: 3040-31000-105-002-N
Project Type: Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement
Start Date: Nov 1, 2022
End Date: Jan 1, 2026
The overarching goal of this project is to develop the background knowledge and tools needed for successful implementation of genomic selection for robustness and climatic resilience in the dominant breed in all major US sheep breed-types (hair, semi-prolific, fine-wool, terminal-sire). The specific objectives are: Objective #1: Generate genomic datasets and estimate genomic diversity metrics essential for the successful implementation of genomic selection; Objective #2: Build reference populations for key robustness and climatic resilience traits and understand their underlying genomic background; Objective #3: Evaluate genotyping strategies and methods for genomic prediction of breeding values in the main US sheep breed-types.
The sheep industry contributes nearly $6 billion annually to the US economy, with growing ethnic diversity strengthening demand. Sheep farms outnumber dairy cattle, pig, and broiler enterprises, with distinctive breed-types dispersed across climatically-diverse regions and management systems. Breeding robust animals that perform well under these conditions is paramount to the industry’s sustainability. However, robustness and climatic resilience traits are largely absent in US sheep genetic evaluations. The overarching goal of this project is to develop the background knowledge and tools needed for successful implementation of genomic selection for robustness and climatic resilience in the dominant breed in major US sheep breed-types (hair, semi-prolific, fine-wool, terminal-sire). Therefore, aligning closely with the Animal Breeding and Functional Annotation of Genomes Program Area (A1201), this project will investigate population parameters based on genomic information that are essential for optimizing breeding programs (Objective #1), provide a better understanding of the genetic background of robustness and productiveness in US sheep populations (Objective #2), and develop guidelines for the optimal implementation of genomic selection for these traits on a national scale (Objective #3). By leveraging existing resources at USDA ARS centers, the depth and novelty of traits assessed will be further enhanced. By building a strong partnership with sheep producers, the National Sheep Improvement Program, USDA ARS, and land-grant universities, integration of outputs in national breeding strategies is ensured. Ultimately, this project will optimize the resilience of US sheep farming systems, which are key pillars of socioeconomic sustainability and ecosystem services in rural communities.