Relationship of ewe reproduction with subjectively assessed wool and conformation traits in the Elsenburg Merino flock

Author: P. A. M. Matebesi-Ranthimo, S. W. P. Cloete, J. B. van Wyk & J. J. Olivier
Year: 2018
Issue: 1
Volume: 48
Page: 29 - 38

Subjectively assessed wool and conformation traits are widely used to select breeding ewes and rams in the sheep industry. Data from a Merino flock that is maintained at Elsenburg Research Farm were used to investigate animal model (co)variance components for ewe reproduction traits with subjectively assessed wool and conformation traits. Ewe reproduction traits were assessed at their first lambing opportunity at two years, or over a three-year period from their lambing opportunities at two to four years old. Relationships of ewe reproduction traits with subjectively measured wool and conformation traits were also investigated. All these traits were heritable, with a range from 0.16 ± 0.03 for topline (TOPL) to 0.64 ± 0.04 for woolly face score (WFS). Genetic correlations of number of lambs born (NLB1) with colour (COL), number of lambs weaned (NLW1) with COL and belly and points (BANDP) and total weight of lamb weaned (TWW1) with COL were negative and significant. Significant genetic correlations of ewe reproduction traits over three lambing opportunities were found between number of lambs born (NLB3) and WFS (0.23 ± 0.11) and between total weight weaned (TWW3) and face cover score (FCS) (-0.33 ± 0.16). Among these traits, the noteworthy favourable genetic correlation between total fold score (TOT) and NLB1 suggested that plainer ewes were more reproductive. This is important for the South African Merino industry as plainer sheep are more desirable because of their faster growth and higher lambing percentages and reduced chances of fly strike. Selection for improved ewe reproduction in Merino sheep thus would not result in marked unfavourable correlated responses in most of these subjective wool and conformation traits.

Keywords: correlations, heritability
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