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Genetic parameters for birth difficulty, lamb vigour and lamb sucking ability in Suffolk sheep

By J. M. Macfarlane, S. M. Matheson, C. M. Dwyer

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This study investigates the genetic basis of lamb vigour (defined as neonatal lamb activity and sucking ability) and lambing difficulty as potential traits to be included in selection programmes to improve ewe and lamb welfare. Scores for lamb birth difficulty, vigour and sucking ability were collected shortly after birth on 1,520 lambs born in 2006 in 19 different flocks that were members of the UK Suffolk Sire Referencing Scheme. Scores evaluated each trait on a scale of 1 to 4; 1 being no assistance given either during birth or to suck, or excellent vigour, through to 4 where a large degree of assistance was required, or poor vigour. Genetic parameters (heritabilities, genetic correlations) were estimated by fitting an individual animal model using ASREML. Variance components obtained from univariate and bivariate analyses were averaged to provide genetic parameter estimates. Heritabilities for birth difficulty and vigour were moderate but heritability for sucking ability was not significant. The genetic correlation between vigour and sucking ability was positive and high, that between vigour and birth difficulty moderately negative, and that between birth difficulty and sucking ability not significant. Birth difficulty and vigour could be included in Suffolk breeding programmes to help reduce health and welfare problems associated with these traits in Suffolk sheep, and in flocks producing crossbred lambs sired by Suffolk rams. Further work is required to evaluate correlations between these traits and performance traits and to comprehensively validate the scoring system once more data become available.

Date 2010
Publication Title Animal Welfare
Volume 19
Issue Supplement
Pages 99-105
ISBN/ISSN 0962-7286
Language English
Author Address Sustainable Livestock Systems, Scottish Agriculutural College, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JG, UK.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal genetics
  2. Animal models
  3. Animal reproduction
  4. Animal rights
  5. Animal welfare
  6. Breeding
  7. Breeding program
  8. British Isles
  9. Commonwealth of Nations
  10. Crossbreds
  11. Developed countries
  12. Estimation
  13. Europe
  14. Flocks
  15. Genetic correlations
  16. Genetic parameters
  17. Genetics
  18. Great Britain
  19. Health
  20. Heritability
  21. Lambing
  22. Lambs
  23. Mammals
  24. Methodologies
  25. newborn animals
  26. OECD countries
  27. Parasites
  28. peer-reviewed
  29. performance traits
  30. rams
  31. scoring systems
  32. Selection
  33. Sheep
  34. Techniques
  35. traits
  36. United Kingdom
  37. Wool producing animals
  1. peer-reviewed