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Genotype rather than non-genetic behavioural transmission determines the temperament of Merino lambs

By S. Bickell, P. Poindron, R. Nowak, A. Chadwick, D. Ferguson, D. Blache

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Merino ewes have been selected, over 18 generations, for calm (C) or nervous (N) temperament using an arena test and an isolation box test. We investigated the relative contributions of genotype versus the post-partum behaviour of the dam on the temperament of the lambs using a cross-fostering procedure. Forty-eight multiparous calm and 52 nervous ewes were artificially inseminated with the semen of a sire of the same temperament. At birth, 32 lambs of a given temperament line were cross fostered to ewes from the other line (16 N x C, 16 C x N), 34 lambs were cross fostered to ewes from the same line (15 C x C, 19 N x N) and 30 lambs were left with their birth mother (15 C, 15 N), to control for the effect of cross fostering. The temperament of the progeny was assessed at two occasions, one week after birth by measuring locomotor activity during an open-field test and at weaning (16 weeks) by measuring locomotor activity during an arena test and agitation score measured during an isolation box test. There was a genotype effect but no maternal or fostering effect on the lamb temperament at one week. This may be because the maternal behaviour of the foster ewes did not differ considerably between the calm and nervous mothers during adoption or within the first week, post partum. Similarly, at weaning, only a genotype effect was found on the locomotor and agitation score. Therefore, it appears that temperament in Merino sheep is mainly determined by the genetic transmission of the trait across generations rather than behaviours learned from the mother.

Date 2009
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 18
Issue 4
Pages 459-466
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address School of Animal Biology, Faculty of Natural & Agricultural Sciences, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. animal breed
  3. Animal genetics
  4. Animal nutrition
  5. Animal reproduction
  6. Animal rights
  7. Animal welfare
  8. Artificial insemination
  9. Artificial intelligence.
  10. Cells
  11. Diseases
  12. Dog Breeds
  13. Fostering
  14. Genetics
  15. Genotypes
  16. Insemination
  17. Lambs
  18. Mammals
  19. Maternal behavior
  20. mothers
  21. Parasites
  22. peer-reviewed
  23. progeny
  24. semen
  25. Sheep
  26. temperament
  27. transmission
  28. weaning
  29. Wool
  30. Wool producing animals
  1. peer-reviewed