New Zealand to apply genomics in working dogs in new study

Sheep Central, July 31, 2023

What makes a top NZ working dog? Image – TeamMate, the NZ Working Dog Project. Facebook.

A NEW Zealand study aims to develop new genetic criteria for desirable working dog traits by undertaking the most detailed genomic investigation of the NZ dog breeds ever attempted.

NZ Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said breeding top-notch working farm dogs is the focus of the new industry-led project backed by the government.

“We know working dogs play key roles on thousands of New Zealand farms, helping move and muster livestock across sheep and beef country.

“A good dog also does wonders for farmer wellbeing,” he said.

“This project will apply methodology currently used for elite sheep and cattle breeding to farm dogs, and minimise risk when selecting a new dog.”

The $1.77 million three-year project is supported by the Government through its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures Fund, with the Ministry for Primary Industries co-investing $770,000. Massey, Focus Genetics and VHL Genetics will contribute $1 million in cash and in-kind.

The project will be led by the AL Rae Centre for Genetics and Breeding, a Massey University satellite campus based at Innovation Park in Ruakura, working with industry partners Pamu, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, and the NZ Sheep Dog Trial Association to engage farmers – and their dogs – across the country.

Mr O’Conor said there are an estimated 200,000 working dogs across New Zealand.

“It’s a significant investment for a shepherd to put together a team of dogs and this project will help give them more certainty in selecting a pup.

“Most of our rural canines are Huntaway and Heading Dog breeds with genetic stock unique to New Zealand hill country,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Our four-legged workers make a valuable contribution to on-farm productivity as well as to farmer mental health and wellbeing.

“This project will be the most detailed genomic investigation of New Zealand working farm dog breeds to date, with exciting potential to improve dogs’ health, welfare, and working performance,” he said.

“One part of the project will identify the desired traits of working farm dogs, and develop new genomic prediction criteria to aid the selection of improved dogs.

“Another will involve genome sequencing and genotyping to set a baseline understanding of recessive disease-causing mutations which can be carried by these breeds,” the minister said.

“Through this project we can expect to see dogs that are in better health and demonstrate superior working performance.

“So in time, the farmer’s ‘best friend’ will be become an ‘even more valuable’ friend,” Mr O’Connor said.


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