Breeding top-notch working farm dogs is the focus of a new industry-led project being backed by the Government.
Agriculture Minister, Damien O’Connor says the project will apply methodology currently used for elite sheep and cattle breeding to farm dogs, and minimise risk when selecting a new dog.
“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,” Mr O’Connor said.
“There are an estimated 200,000 working dogs across the country. 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.”
The $1.77 million three-year project is being 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.
Led by the AL Rae Centre for Genetics and Breeding, a Massey University satellite campus based at Innovation Park in Ruakura, it will also work with industry partners Pamu, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, and the NZ Sheep Dog Trial Association to engage farmers across the country.
“Most of our rural canines are Huntaway and Heading Dog breeds with genetic stock unique to New Zealand hill country,” said Minister O’Connor.
“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.
“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.
“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,” he said.