Genetic parameters for ewe reproduction with objectively measured wool traits in Elsenburg Merino flock
Reproduction is important for sustainable lamb production in Merino sheep. Data from a Merino flock maintained at Elsenburg Research Farm in the Western Cape, South Africa, were used to investigate the genetic parameters for ewe reproduction traits and their relationship with objectively measured wool traits. Traits included number of lambs born during the first lambing opportunity (NLB1), number of lambs weaned during the first lambing opportunity (NLW1), total weight of lamb weaned during the first lambing opportunity (TWW1), number of lambs born during a ewe’s lifetime (NLB3), number of lambs weaned during a ewe’s lifetime (NLW3), and total weight weaned per ewe’s reproductive life (TWW3) Fixed effects of selection line, birth type, sex, age of the dam in years, year of birth, and the sex*birth year interaction had significant effects on all bodyweight and objectively measured wool traits. Only year of birth and selection line affected ewe reproduction traits. Heritability estimates amounted to 0.10 ± 0.03 for NLB1, 0.07 ± 0.02 for NLW1, 0.10 ± 0.04 for TWW1, 0.25 ± 0.04 for NLB3, 0.12 ± 0.03 for NLW3, and 0.18 ± 0.04 for TWW3. Wool traits were moderately heritable at 0.28 ± 0.05 (staple strength) to 0.60 ± 0.03 (clean yield (CY)) and coefficient of variation of fibre diameter (CVFD). Relationships among ewe reproduction traits were high, ranging from 0.74 between TWW1 and NLB3 to 1.00 between NLW1 and TWW1. The genetic relationships of ewe reproduction traits with wool weights and staple length were positive. Fibre diameter (FD) and CY were unfavourably related to ewe reproduction traits. It seems possible to improve ewe reproduction when selecting on NLB, NLW, and TWW in Merino sheep without unwanted correlated response to selection in wool traits, with the exception of FD and CY.
Keywords: Bodyweight, heritability, relationships