AbacusBio Ltd, New Zealand, 2008 - present

Goal: To discover the traits that Irish sheep farmers want in their sheep breeding programmes


  • Not all traits are rationalisable in purely economic value terms
  • Trade-offs are necessary between possible traits
  • Farmers and industry experts differ in their preferences
  • Geographical spread of farmers and experts


In animal breeding programmes there are often well-defined breeding objectives based on the relative economic importance of specific traits. Discovering these traits – that matter most to farmers – can be challenging.

Traditional approaches (eg. profit equations and bio-economic models) often overlook the indirect value of subjective traits that may contribute to farm profitability. Also often ignored are traits linked to animal welfare and/or environmental impact, which may influence farmers’ decisions despite being difficult to define economically.

A new approach

As an alternative (and novel) approach, AbacusBio used 1000minds to survey farmers and acknowledged experts from the Irish sheep industry to capture their preferences with respect to the relative importance of target traits in the definition of a sheep breeding objective. The experts included scientists, agricultural advisors and pedigree sheep breeders from throughout Ireland.

The objective was to ascertain whether, and to what extent, the surveyed experts and farmers care about traits other than ones that are able to be rationalised in purely economic value terms.

According to Tim Byrne of AbacusBio who led the study, “The power of 1000minds is that farmers can use it to reveal otherwise hidden factors that have a significant impact on profit and they can then focus selection more on these traits.” (AbacusBio Ltd 2011).

Based on the 1000minds survey results, it appears that both economic and ‘other’ aspects associated with specific trait changes are important. The results also confirmed that the ‘preference-based’ methodology exemplified by 1000minds can be used when traditional approaches are not practical. This work has been fully written up in Byrne et al (2011, 2012a).

Other applications

In addition, AbacusBio used 1000minds to survey plant experts to determine how they regarded the relative importance of a range of plant traits such as yield, persistence, quality and disease resistance as selection criteria for the improvement of perennial grasses and legumes in Australia. This work is written up in Smith and Fennessy (2011) and Byrne et al (2011). AbacusBio has also used 1000minds to define breeding goals in the New Zealand dairy industry (Byrne et al 2012b).


AbacusBio Ltd (2011), “1000minds clarifies sheep and plant breeding objectives”, AbacusBio Breeder, Summer 2010/11.

T Byrne, P Amer, P Fennessy, P Hansen & B Wickham (2012a), “A preference-based approach to deriving breeding objectives – applied to sheep breeding”, Animal 6, 778-88.

T Byrne, P Amer, J Nühs, J Bryant & G Cruickshank (2012b), “Using preference survey approaches to define breeding goals in the New Zealand dairy industry”, International Committee for Animal Recording (ICAR) Conference, Cork, Ireland 2012.

T Byrne, P Fennessy, K Smith, P Hansen & P Amer, “Preference-based approaches to deriving breeding objectives: Application to sheep and plant breeding”, 19th Conference of Association for the Advancement of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Perth, Australia 2011, AAABG Conference Proceedings 20 (news).

K Smith & P Fennessy (2011), “The use of conjoint analysis to determine the relative importance of specific traits as selection criteria for the improvement of perennial pasture species in Australia”, Crop & Pasture Science 62, 355-65.

See also

Publications about plant and animal breeding

News about agriculture applications