Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Genetic and phenotypic parameters between yearling, hoggetand adult reproductive performance and age of first oestrus in sheep

J. E. Newton A B C E , D. J. Brown B , S. Dominik C and J. H. J. van der Werf A D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

C CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences, FD McMaster Laboratory, Armidale, NSW 2350, Australia.

D Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: jnewton9@myune.edu.au

Animal Production Science 54(6) 753-761 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN13245
Submitted: 14 June 2013  Accepted: 4 April 2014   Published: 22 April 2014

Abstract

The aims of this study were to quantify the relationship between age of first oestrus and yearling reproductive performance in maternal-cross ewes in the Information Nucleus Flock data and to estimate genetic and phenotypic correlations between early and later reproductive performance defined as three ages, yearling, hogget and adult in both Merino and maternal-cross ewes. Information on 2218 yearling records, 2047 hogget records and 910 age of first oestrus records were used in the analysis of maternal-cross ewes, whereas 3286 hogget and 2518 adult reproductive records were used in analysis of Merino ewes. Heritability estimates for yearling reproductive performance in maternal-cross ewes ranged from 0.08 ± 0.09 for ewe fecundity to 0.16 ± 0.05 for number of lambs born and were generally higher than hogget heritability estimates for both maternal-cross and Merino ewes. Age at first oestrus was found to have a low heritability, 0.02 with standard errors of 0.07 and 0.06 with and without weight fitted as a covariate. Genetic correlations between age at first oestrus with and without weight fitted as a covariate and yearling reproductive performance were positive, ranging from 0.07 ± 0.49 with lamb survival to 0.94 ± 0.39 with number of lambs born, which was unexpected. Correlations between traits from the same age class were high in both breed groups. Genetic correlations between yearling and hogget performance in maternal-cross ewes were generally lower than one, ranging from 0.46 ± 0.68 for lamb survival and 0.79 ± 0.50 for fertility suggesting that yearling and later reproductive performance are related but genetically different traits. In Merino ewes, the genetic correlations between hogget and adult performance followed a similar pattern. The small number of records in this study generated high standard errors for estimates, which restricts the conclusions that can be drawn. Overall, this study supports current practice used by ‘Sheep Genetics’, the Australian genetic evaluation system for sheep, in considering yearling reproductive performance as a trait separate from later parities for genetic evaluation purposes.

Additional keywords: ewes, Merino, puberty, reproduction.


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