- The aim of selection is to increase the frequency of desired alleles and decrease the frequency of undesired genes in a population, ideally producing animals that breed true for the genotypes and phenotypes selected for. One influence on the effectiveness of selection on gene frequency changes is the initial gene frequency in a population. Consider two alleles at locus A: A1 is wanted and A2 is not. This graph plots the frequency of A2 in each successive generation, showing the effect of selection against that unwanted allele A2 over many generations:
- To select for a simply-inherited trait requires knowing just three things: the number of loci involved (often just one), the number of alleles at each locus (usually a small number), and the genotypes or possible genotypes of the parents-to-be (again typically a small number). In the case of a simply-inherited trait that is partially dominant, such as Andalusian chicken colour, all three pieces of information are known. There is just one locus (B), two alleles (’B’ and ‘b’), and three genotypes easily identifiable by eye (’BB’, black; ‘Bb’, slate blue; and ‘bb’, white).
- Selecting animals for breeding is a process by which those deemed ‘best’ are allowed to be parents, and those deemed not, aren’t. The next generation is similarly assessed, and the next, and the next, with the population expected to improve incrementally each time. This gradual improvement over time is due to the frequency of desirable genes increasing in the population and the frequency of undesirable genes decreasing in the population. This results in a group of animals with increased breeding value, as they have a higher concentration of ‘best’ genes more likely to be passed onto the next generation. That next generation, with its higher concentration of ‘best’ genes will perform* at a higher level than earlier generations did. (* ‘Performance’ here is a breeding term that doesn’t necessarily refer to athletic performance such as speed. Rather, it refers to the resulting phenotype, as determined by the genotype. ‘Performance’ could be how fine a sheep’s wool is, for example.) Gene frequencies, breeding values and performance are all intertwined. Increasing breeding values and performance in a population increases the frequencies of desirable genes. Increasing the frequencies of desirable genes increases breeding values and performance.
- Seasonal wool growth and associated wool characteristics were measured in a Romney line selected for high fleece weight and an unselected control line in 1990 and 1991. Both had a significant (P < 0.01) decline in wool growth rate in winter compared with summer. The wool growth rate advantage (P < 0.001) of the selected line over the control averaged 19 and 33% for ewes, and 24 and 36% for hoggets, in summer and winter, respectively. Staple strength, yield, and fibre diameter differences were closely associated with wool growth. Colour analysis showed no difference between lines in either brightness (Y) or yellowness (Y - Z). However, both the Y and Z values were lower in spring and summer, while Y - Z was highest in summer. The results suggest that selection for high fleece weight also improves major wool characteristics and reduces the relative winter wool growth decline in Romneys.
- When selecting rams for a commercial enterprise the first step is to set your breeding objective. Spend a few minutes to write down precisely what you are aiming for, including the levels of performance and by when you want to achieve it. Find more information on setting a breeding objective. Because the most effective way to select for a trait or characteristic is to directly measure or assess that characteristic, you should buy rams from a stud that objectively measures or collects scores (using a standardized system) for the traits you wish to improve. For instance, staple strength can be selected with much higher accuracy if the stud directly measures staple strength on its rams, rather than just having the ASBV calculated from related measurements such as fibre diameter coefficient of variation. However, the ram’s own performance is only part of the picture. What you see in the ram isn’t necessarily what you will get in the progeny because much of the ram’s performance is a result of the ‘environment’. Nutritional differences between animals are a key environmental element and not only come from what they eat, but whether they were born or reared as a twin or their mother was a maiden ewe—giving them less nutrition during pregnancy and lactation than for a single lamb and/or from a mature ewe. Also, climate, disease and management differences will affect how they perform. If you know these environmental factors for each individual, and if you have been able to inspect all of the animal’s relatives and see their performance data, you’d be able to predict very accurately, how the progeny will look and perform. However, this is not practical for you to do, so studs that provide you with Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) already have this information taken into account. Pedigree information, management groups, data from relatives and relationships to rams used in the stud and elsewhere are all accounted for and very important when calculating Australian Sheep Breeding Values. Importantly, you can accurately compare rams from different studs (whether at opposite sides of the country or having had quite different management) if they both provide ASBVs for the same trait.