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The genetics of temperament in merino sheep and relationships with lamb survival

By K. J. Plush, M. L. Hebart, F. D. Brien, P. I. Hynd

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Investigations were made into the genetics of several temperament traits in Merino ewes, with particular emphasis on those aspects which might be associated with maternal behaviour at lambing and consequently, the postnatal survival of lambs. If a beneficial relationship between ewe temperament and lamb survival could be established, indirect selection for such a trait may result in increased gain in survival when compared to direct selection. Ewe mothering temperament was a subjective score based on the proximity of the ewe whilst her lamb was tagged and measured the ewes affinity to her lamb, agitation score measured the reactivity of a sheep whilst isolated from flock mates and lastly, flight time calculated the time taken for a sheep to cross two points 1.7 m apart after release from a weight crate reflecting aversion to human handling. A data set from over 118 sires, approximately 2000 animals and more than 20,000 records was analysed for estimation of the genetic parameters for these traits and a set of economically important wool production traits. The heritability (+or-SE) of ewe mothering temperament was 0.35+or-0.02. Agitation score and flight time were less heritable (0.20+or-0.05 and 0.12+or-0.05, respectively). The heritability of litter survival was low (0.09+or-0.01) and the genetic correlations between this trait and ewe mothering temperament, agitation score and flight time were 0.18+or-0.08, 0.39+or-0.18 and 0.09+or-0.27, respectively. Estimated genetic correlations (rg) between temperament traits and wool traits overall were negligible, with the exception of staple length (wool growth since last shearing) which was negatively correlated to agitation score (rg=-0.26+or-0.03). The relationship between agitation score and litter survival is predicted to result in a smaller increase in lamb survival than compared to direct selection for the trait itself. Further, if selection is practised for low agitation score, the observed positive relationship would suggest that litter survival may be reduced in future generations.

Date 2011
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 134
Issue 3/4
Pages 130-135
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.07.009
Language English
Author Address School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences, The University of Adelaide, Roseworthy 5371, Australia.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. animal breed
  3. Animal genetics
  4. Animal husbandry
  5. Animal production
  6. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  7. Breeding
  8. Breeds
  9. Cleaning
  10. Crossbreds
  11. Estimation
  12. Fiber
  13. Fleecing
  14. Flight
  15. Genetic correlations
  16. Genetic parameters
  17. Genetics
  18. Growth
  19. Handling
  20. Heritability
  21. Lambing
  22. Lambs
  23. Livestock farming
  24. Mammals
  25. Maternal behavior
  26. peer-reviewed
  27. Ruminants
  28. shearing
  29. Sheep
  30. staple
  31. survival
  32. Techniques
  33. temperament
  34. traits
  35. Wool
  36. Wool producing animals
  1. peer-reviewed