Typically, over a farming career, there are 30 chances to introduce new genetics via the breeding season.

Mark Ferguson, neXtgen agri, likes to point this out to encourage farmers to put time and effort into genetic selection. NeXtgen agri is a genetics consultancy business that runs courses and one-on-one advice (mix of free and subscription) to help farmers choose the right genetics for their flock.

During the Covid-19 lockdown months, their online sheep breeding course was attended by 70 farmers. Ferguson said this focused on Australian breeding values and was attended by Australian and New Zealand fine wool stud and commercial growers.

Crossbreed and strong wool growers are next on Ferguson’s list of farmers to deliver his genetic insights to. In spring, neXtgen agri will be rolling out another on-line sheep breeding course, this time with a focus on the NZ Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL) database.

It will be aimed at strong wool commercial farmers and cover breeding values and eye appraisal of sheep.

The repeat sessions build a rapport among the group, he said.

“We will cover different decision support tools and how to navigate the complexities of buying the best rams for your farm and retaining the best ewes on the farm.”

Some of the ‘teaser’ insights include revelations about the impact of a sheep being born a twin.

“It is more than you think.

“Farmers are selecting against twins in many cases, by the way they select replacements.

“It is quite a complex situation and we can help farmers navigate this.”

NeXtgen Agri started a podcast for farmers during the lockdown. Known as Head Shepherd, the most popular episodes have had more than 600 views from around the world.

“Our subscription fortnightly zoom calls with industry experts have been growing in popularity, – some people watch them live, others watch the recorded versions.”

“We had online Friday night drinks and learning sessions for our members during lockdown, which were very popular.”

Ferg’s top teasers on genetics, Nextgen Agri

Your breeding objectives are not right or wrong. They are personal. It is applying the principles and tools that you need to get right.

  • The tools determine the pace your flock advances.
  • Error is the enemy of genetic gain. Removing error in your decision making improves your rate of gain.
  • Using breeding values to select your rams reduces the error.

Breed for balance: be careful to not only select for the traits that make you money. Also think about traits that save

you money, save you time and delight a customer.

  • In fine wool flocks, twins wean lighter, have lower fleece weight, lower staple length and less secondary fibre development. Be careful when you are culling young ewes, otherwise the twins will be the first to go.
  • If you are going to feed a sheep, make it a good one.
  • Phenotype is what we see and measure. Genetics + environment = Phenotype. Breeding values take out the environmental factors (ewe age, twin, climate, season, feeding) so that is what makes them useful.
  • Heritability differs. Fibre diameter is about 55-65% heritable. Reproduction traits are about 5% heritable. You can still make good gain on lowly heritable traits but you will need to use all the right tools to do so.


  • Will Gibson, neXtgen agri, will feature in the NZ Merino Review, outlining his genetic coaching role at Glenmore Station.