Ireland’s Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Teagasc, has published a book on genetics and horse breeding that aims to be a blueprint for equine genetic improvement.
Written by equine specialist Dr Alan Hurley, the free, downloadable book Genetics and Breeding of Irish Horses is designed to educate breeders to use available resources to make informed breeding decisions.
It outlines several aspects of equine genetics and breeding and illustrates how breeders can improve the genetic merit of Irish horses backed by science. It is aimed at breeders and owners, students of equine studies, animal breeding and veterinary science who want to learn more about equine breeding and genetics.
Its chapters cover essential genetic information for breeders, genomics, pedigree and breeding schemes, line breeding, inbreeding and colour genetics, mare and stallion evaluation, breeding objectives, the concept of breeding values, and performance and health genetics. As well as conformation, the latter looks at the heritability of osteochondrosis and navicular disease, and disorders such as Warmblood fragile foal syndrome, hoof wall separation disease, and polysaccharide storage myopathy, and the genetics of respiratory disease.
Breeding is a significant part of the equine industry in Ireland, which is dominated by the Thoroughbred and Sport Horse sectors. The annual economic value of the Irish thoroughbred breeding and racing industries is valued at €1.84 billion while the Irish sport horse sector is estimated to be worth in the region of €816 million to the economy.
Teagasc Director Professor Frank O’Mara said the 104-page book highlights the importance of equine genetics and breeding for the industry as a whole. “It stresses the importance of selectivity and using the best males and females, to genetically improve a population, in a certain direction, based on a predefined goal.”
Teagasc’s Professor Donagh Berry said that Hurley had “elegantly and succinctly compiled the key components and blueprint of a successful breeding programme in horses”.
“Luck is the key ingredient to breeding a successful animal. A well-structured breeding programme, however, improves the mean performance of the population as well as increasing the chances of breeding that successful animal,” Berry said.
Hurley said that significant genetic advances in coming years could be achieved with “significant acceptance from breeders and industry both in terms of recording data and implementation of available resources”.
Teagasc is one of the main providers of full-time education, lifelong learning and advice to growing cohorts of equine breeders, producers and riders.