Like all farming systems, sheep operations face increasing economic, environmental, cultural, and social challenges, including climate change and consumer expectations about their food. Genetic improvement has the potential to help with these challenges. This review explores the importance of genetic improvement on welfare and disease traits in meeting these challenges. For all wool breeds, there is a need for traits such as being polled, having a short tail and having a bare breech and a bare belly to ensure an ethical outcome. Sheep that either seasonally lose their fleece, or do not grow wool, represent an opportunity. Predicted climate change poses significant animal-health challenges, including the internal parasite Haemonchus contortus, facial eczema, flystrike and pneumonia, that are likely to encroach on a wider geographic range. Given consumer expectations around reduced chemical inputs and improved animal welfare, genetic improvement will play a critical role in developing sheep that are more tolerant to such health challenges. While several key physical characteristics required for the future exist in minor breeds currently in New Zealand, their performance under a range of New Zealand commercial farming conditions has not been evaluated. Some overseas breeds, such as Katahdin and Barbados Blackbelly, may offer opportunities. Consideration needs to be given to the use of novel gene pools both within and outside the New Zealand sheep industry for it to be able to meet future challenges. To achieve this end, more information is needed about the overall merit of these novel breeds, to be able to identify the best strategy to take towards breeding sheep that address the future needs of the New Zealand sheep industry. Keywords: sheep; genotypes; breeding; future
New Zealand Journal of Animal Science and Production, Volume 81, Online, 1-15, 2021
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