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

Genetic relationships between internal parasite resistance and production traits in Merino sheep

D. J. Brown A B and N. M. Fogarty A C D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Sheep CRC Ltd, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

B Animal Genetics and Breeding Unit*, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia.

C NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange Agricultural Institute, Orange, NSW 2800, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: neal.fogarty@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Animal Production Science 57(2) 209-215 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN15469
Submitted: 20 August 2015  Accepted: 25 October 2015   Published: 4 March 2016

Abstract

Breeding Merino sheep that are resistant to internal parasites alleviates the high costs associated with treatment of worm infestation and loss of production, as well as mitigating the development of anthelmintic resistance among the major worm species. Faecal worm egg count ((cube root transformation), wec) can be used in sheep as a measure of internal parasite resistance. Accurate estimates of genetic parameters for wec are required for calculation of Australian Sheep Breeding Values and inclusion of worm resistance in sheep breeding programs. This study provides updated estimates of heritability for wec and its genetic correlations with production traits. Data were analysed from a wide range of Australian and New Zealand Merino sheep in the MERINOSELECT database, which included 141 flocks with 801 flock years and up to 217 137 animals with wec recorded in at least one of four ages (W = weaning, P = post weaning, Y = yearling, H = hogget). The heritability estimates ranged from 0.16 ± 0.01 for Ywec to 0.29 ± 0.01 for Wwec, with generally high genetic correlations between the ages. Bivariate analyses estimated genetic correlations between wec at the various ages and growth, carcass quality, reproduction and wool production traits at various ages. These genetic correlations were generally small or close to zero, albeit with some significantly different from zero. The moderate heritability for wec (0.2–0.3) and its high phenotypic variation (coefficient of variation >30%) shows that relatively rapid selection response for worm resistance could be achieved. Inclusion of wec in sheep breeding programs to increase worm resistance would be expected to have little if any impact on other important production traits. These genetic parameters have been incorporated into MERINOSELECT by Sheep Genetics to provide Australian Sheep Breeding Values for wec and appropriate indices for wool and meat production. There is evidence that genotype × environment interactions may be important in some environments by reducing the accuracy of Australian Sheep Breeding Values for wec. Hence it may be prudent for breeders to implement strategies that manage the risk of any impact of genotype × environment on their breeding program.

Additional keywords: genetic correlations, heritability, reproduction, wool.


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