The 2014 American Lamb Industry Roadmap prioritized genetic selection as an indispensable tool to cost-effectively produce quality lamb. The National Sheep Improvement Program (NSIP) serves to meet that objective as the main provider of genetic evaluation services to U.S. sheep producers. Its remit is to generate and distribute Estimated Breeding Values (EBV)—predictors of an animal’s genetic merit—for growth, carcass, wool and fitness traits to sheep breeders across all sectors of the industry. Yet, for those services to remain up-to-date and globally competitive, evolving genetic technologies, particularly genomics, must be incorporated. Fortunately, genotyping in sheep has become much more cost-effective. Still, the foundation to utilizing genomics requires building a repository of genotypes on substantial numbers of animals within a breed that also have performance records on traits of interest. That initial investment remains costly. Support at a national level, however, would facilitate establishment of the necessary stockpile of genomic information to utilize this selection tool industry-wide.

Our aim is to provide integration of performance and production data from sources that can help enhance the National Sheep Improvement Program, which is a priority of the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center (NSIIC). In this project we propose three specific objectives:

1. Build an industry resource of genotypes necessary for developing tools to obtain more accurate genomic EBV in younger animals. This would increase the rate of genetic progress that could be achieved each year.

2. Characterize the extent of genetic diversity, which underpins any genetic improvement program, in U.S. Rambouillet sheep. This would enable the design of selection schemes that best incorporate genomic information.

3. Identify genetic markers associated with performance for production efficiency and fitness traits in this breed.

Similar efforts are underway in the hair (Katahdin) and terminal sire (Suffolk) sectors, but not yet in a western range breed. Combined, these objectives will support integration of data from an industry group—the Fine Wool Consortium—in developing innovations within NSIP with opportunity for broad benefit to the national sheep flock.