The Tattykeel Story: A fresh look at line breeding’

‘The Tattykeel Story, the truth about line breeding’ is a forthcoming book that will be of enormous interest to people in livestock industries in Australia and all over the world. The main characters in the story – the Gilmore family near Oberon in New South Wales – are leading sheep breeders in Australia and their views about breeding are regarded by many as controversial. Despite this controversy, their credibility in the sheep breeding industry is second to none because they have consistently performed at the highest elite level at stud show events in Australia. Central to the success they have enjoyed is that they advocate and use the traditional technique of line breeding to move their stud animals to the highest level of performance.

Their winning ways over the past few decades have not been in the form of a ‘flash in the pan’ or of a ‘one hit wonder’. They have consistently won show events in several different breeds of sheep and in all classes within breeds. Again, they advocate and use line breeding in their animals to bring about their superior

performance. ‘Line breeding is the normal state of affairs in most of nature,’ says Graham Gilmore, one of the partners in the family farming business. ‘It is the way nature standardises things like body shape and other features of a breed or species phenotype (what the animal looks like). Nature, through line breeding, produces animals in a flock or herd with extremely tight ‘bell curves’ of type and performance and with extremely tight standard deviations from the norm.

‘Nature does not produce these tight bell curves and narrow standard deviations through the process of ‘out-crossing’ – it does it by a natural system of line breeding.

‘Why therefore should so many people in the stud industry believe that the way to improve the characteristics and consistency of our animals is by more ‘out-crossing’ to new blood lines all the time? Nature doesn’t do it on a  continuous basis, why should we?’ asks Graham.

To many, brought up on the mantra of genetic diversity, Graham’s views are anathema. But Graham contends that many who criticise him have views about line breeding that are simply mistaken prejudices. ‘Many of my critics have just never sat down and studied precisely what line breeding really is,’ he says. ‘They think it is that same as in-breeding with brothers breeding with sisters and fathers breeding with daughters. It’s not that at all. This is a mistaken belief by our critics. It is a myth. It is a criticism based on a misunderstanding.’

The coming book, ‘The Tattykeel Story, the truth about line breeding’ tells the story of an innovative farming family that traces its history in Australia to the arrival of the Graham’s Grandfather, Alf Gilmore, at Oberon in the late 1920s. Alf migrated from Northern Ireland, took up 500 acres of land, married and had five children. He established a successful farming family operation, initially on 500 acres of land.

When he originally arrived at his block of land he had an exe, a tent and a billy ( a bush kettle).

Today the descendants of Alf Gilmore and his wife farm an area of around 10,000 acres in the district.

Most interestingly, the book, ‘The Tattykeel Story, the truth about line breeding’ does not end with the family’s current outstanding success in the stud industry with the Poll Dorset breed of sheep. The book goes on to describe the family’s continued work with leading edge innovation in the sheep industry in Australia. In recent years, using the natural breeding principle of line breeding and the modern technique of embryo transfer, the family has developed a new and stabilised breed named the Australian White. This is a sheep with no wool, only hair, and it is developed with an eye to superior performance in the meat market. In its development, the Australian White has been bred to suit the wide range of Australian conditions – including the coastal conditions of the continent where many other sheep breeds are unsuited.

The family’s financial commitment to developing the new breed can be seen in the fact that Graham and the others have built a world class embryo transfer facility on their farm to carry out the genetic work. When in operation, this facility attracts vets and technical experts from all over Australia and New Zealand to carry out the work. In addition to the issue of line breeding, The Tattykeel Story also describes the paradigm shift that is possible in animal genetics through embryo transfer. ‘Embryo transfer is a complete game changer,’ says Graham. ‘Using embryo transfer, and correct selection of breeding stock for the embryo program, it is possible to compress what would have taken hundreds of years through natural reproduction into just a few years and a few generations of animals.’

Although the Australian White breed has been developed in Australia for Australian conditions, it is encouraging that Graham and the family have already made significant sales of this breed’s genetics to China where conditions in many remote parts of the country are similar to those in Australia.

‘The Tattykeel Story, the truth about line breeding’, will be an invaluable resource to everyone in the stud industry in Australia and worldwide. While it will certainly stir controversy, it should serve to clear the air of many of the myths and prejudices surrounding the topic of line breeding. The book will be published in mid to late 2014 and people who are interested may like to revisit this site in future of leave a message on the ‘Contact’ tab to record their interest.

Interviewing and research for, ‘The Tattykeel Story, the truth about line breeding’,  is completed. A final draft is under consideration. When published in the coming months it will be a must-read for anyone in the livestock business.

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