- Genetic parameters (heritability, phenotypic and genetic correlations) were estimated for a range of visual and measured wool traits recorded from the 2008 shearing of the initial cohort of Merino progeny born into the Sheep CRC’s Information Nucleus Flock. The aim of this initial analysis was to determine the feasibility of selectively breeding Merino sheep for softer, whiter, more photostable wool and to quantify the likely impact on other wool production and quality traits. The estimates of heritability were high for handle and clean colour (0.86 and 0.70, respectively) and moderate for photostability (0.18), with some evidence of maternal effects for both handle and photostability. The phenotypic correlations between handle and clean colour and between handle and photostability were close to zero, indicating that achieving the ‘triple’ objective of softer, whiter, more photostable wool in the current generation through phenotypic selection alone would be difficult. There was evidence of an antagonistic relationship between handle and photostability (–0.36), such that genetic selection for softer wool will produce less photostable wool that will yellow on exposure to UV irradiation. However genetic selection for whiter wool is complementary to photostability and will result in whiter wool that is less likely to yellow. Genetic selection to improve handle, colour and photostability can be achieved with few detrimental effects on other visual and measured wool traits, particularly if they are included in an appropriate selection index.
- 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.
- Previous molecular genetic studies of physiology and pigmentation of sheep skin have focused primarily on a limited number of genes and proteins. To identify additional genes that may play important roles in coat color regulation, Illumina sequencing technology was used to catalog global gene expression profiles in skin of sheep with white versus black coat color.
- In 2007, following extensive industry consultation, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) & Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) developed the Visual Sheep Scores to: • Provide the Australian sheep industry with a standardised set of visual assessment scores for the consistent description of important phenotypic traits of all breeds of sheep; • Develop a quick and simple scoring system to help sheep classers and breeders select sheep on visually-assessed traits to accelerate genetic gain; • Enable sheep breeders and classers to record and submit visual score data and genetic information to Sheep Genetics to progress development of across-flock Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for visually-assessed traits; and • Enable researchers to estimate the heritability of visually-assessed sheep traits, and to measure their relationships, if any, on important production traits such as fleece weight, fibre diameter, growth rate and body weight.
- Genetic parameters for a range of sheep production traits have been reviewed from estimates published over the last decade. Weighted means and standard errors of estimates of direct and maternal heritability, common environmental effects and the correlation between direct and maternal effects are presented for various growth, carcass and meat, wool, reproduction, disease resistance and feed intake traits. Weighted means and confidence intervals for the genetic and phenotypic correlations between these traits are also presented. A random effects model that incorporated between and within study variance components was used to obtain the weighted means and variances. The weighted mean heritability estimates for the major wool traits (clean fleece weight, fibre diameter and staple length) and all the growth traits were based on more than 20 independent estimates, with the other wool traits based on more than 10 independent estimates. The mean heritability estimates for the carcass and meat traits were based on very few estimates except for fat (27) and muscle depth (11) in live animals. There were more than 10 independent estimates of heritability for most reproduction traits and for worm resistance, but few estimates for other sheep disease traits or feed intake. The mean genetic and phenotypic correlations were based on considerably smaller numbers of independent estimates. There were a reasonable number of estimates of genetic correlations among most of the wool and growth traits, although there were few estimates for the wool quality traits and among the reproduction traits. Estimates of genetic correlations between the groups of different production traits were very sparse. The mean genetic correlations generally had wide confidence intervals reflecting the large variation between estimates and relatively small data sets (number of sires) used. More accurate estimates of genetic parameters and in particular correlations between economically important traits are required for accurate genetic evaluation and development of breeding objectives.