Christian Posbergh and John Nystrom recently traveled to the UK to work with shepherds from the Centurion Group of Poll Dorset Breeders.
Christian is a graduate student in Dr. Heather Huson’s lab (https://blogs.cornell.edu/odysseydnalab/) conducting genetics research on out of season lambing and growth traits in sheep. John is an undergraduate student in the lab conducting his own research on African goats and assisting with animal handling and sample collection for the sheep project.
Why go to the UK to sample sheep? The Dorset breed originated in the UK around 1800 and the Centurion Group of Poll Dorset Breeders has been selecting for out of season lambing for a number of generations and has over 25 years of pedigree and trait records. This unique population of UK sheep add valuable data to the limited number of US breeders currently managing their flocks for out of season lambing.
Chris will add these new samples to his current dataset of various sheep breeds from the US. He has focused on the Dorset and Polypay breeds in the US due to their higher tendency to lamb out of season, therefore improving productivity. However, selection for ewes able to lamb out of season is a challenging and tedious process as ewes must reach breeding maturity and demonstrate reproductive success. Christian’s goal is to identify genetic markers for out of season lambing to provide shepherds with a new tool to manage selective breeding for this trait.
The Centurion Group of shepherds along with many of the US shepherds participating in this project are proactive and seeking modern tools to manage their flocks. Christian and John worked as research ambassadors on this trip as well, presenting research intentions and goals and discussing shepherd priorities and usage of genetics. This open exchange of ideas creates a stronger partnership between researchers and farmers and facilitates the uptake of technology in the future.