Genetic parameters for production and reproduction traits in the Elsenburg Dormer sheep stud were estimated using records of 11743 lambs born between 1943 and 2002. An animal model with direct and maternal additive, maternal permanent and temporary environmental effects was fitted for traits considered traits of the lamb (birth and weaning weight and survival). Fixed effects were sex, birth status, year and age of dam. Weaning weights were pre-adjusted to a 100-day equivalent. For reproduction traits (considered as traits of the ewe), which included number and weight of lambs born and weaned, repeatability models were fitted. The random part consisted of direct additive and ewe and sire permanent environmental effects. Direct and maternal heritability estimates were 0.13 and 0.23 for birth weight and 0.07 and 0.09 for weaning weight. Corresponding proportions of total phenotypic variance due to maternal permanent and temporary environment were 0.09 and 0.28 and 0.06 and 0.22 respectively. The genetic correlation between animal effects was -0.23 in the case of birth weight. The results showed that temporary environment (full sibs within a year) generally has a major effect on all pre-weaning traits. The direct heritability estimate of survival was 0.02 while the temporary maternal environmental variance as a proportion of phenotypic variance was 0.10. The estimates obtained for number and weight of lambs born and weaned were generally low, ranging from 0.03 for number of lambs born to 0.11 for total weight at birth. The permanent environmental effect of the ewe accounted for 6-7% of the total phenotypic variance. Genetic correlations of total weight of lamb weaned with the other reproduction traits were generally high (0.64 to 0.92) with low standard errors. The corresponding phenotypic, environmental and ewe permanent environmental correlations were all medium to high and estimated with a fair deal of accuracy according to low standard errors. The genetic relationship between weaning weight of the ewe and her lifetime reproduction (accumulated over four lambing chances) ranged between 0.40 and 0.67. Correlations between number of lambs weaned per ewe and weight of lamb weaned per ewe were particularly high (0.8 – 0.9). It was concluded that the maternal environmental effect should be partitioned into two components (permanent and temporary) when data sets involving multiple births over many generations are considered.
"Experientia docet" - Experience is the best teacher