• Use of Part Records in Merino Breeding Programs - The Inheritance of Wool Growth and Fibre Traits During Different Times of the Year to Determine Their Value in Merino Breeding Programs

    Fibre diameter can vary dramatically along a wool staple, especially in the Mediterranean environment of southern Australia with its dry summers and abundance of green feed in spring. Other research results have shown a very low phenotypic correlation between fibre diameter grown between seasons. Many breeders use short staples to measure fibre diameter for breeding purposes and also to promote animals for sale. The effectiveness of this practice is determined by the relative response to selection by measuring fibre traits on a full 12 months wool staple as compared to measuring them only on part of a staple. If a high genetic correlation exists between the part record and the full record, then using part records may be acceptable to identify genetically superior animals. No information is available on the effectiveness of part records. This paper investigated whether wool growth and fibre diameter traits of Merino wool grown at different times of the year in a Mediterranean environment, are genetically the same trait, respectively. The work was carried out on about 7 dyebanded wool sections/animal.year, on ewes from weaning to hogget age, in the Katanning Merino resource flocks over 6 years. Relative clean wool growth of the different sections had very low heritability estimates of less than 0.10, and they were phenotypically and genetically poorly correlated with 6 or 12 months wool growth. This indicates that part record measurement of clean wool growth of these sections will be ineffective as indirect selection criteria to improve wool growth genetically. Staple length growth as measured by the length between dyebands, would be more effective with heritability estimates of between 0.20 and 0.30. However, these measurements were shown to have a low genetic correlation with wool grown for 12 months which implies that these staple length measurements would only be half as efficient as the wool weight for 6 or 12 months to improve total clean wool weight. Heritability estimates of fibre diameter, coefficient of variation of fibre diameter and fibre curvature were relatively high and were genetically and phenotypically highly correlated across sections. High positive phenotypic and genetic correlations were also found between fibre diameter, coefficient of variation of fibre diameter and fibre curvature of the different sections and similar measurements for wool grown over 6 or 12 months. Coefficient of variation of fibre diameter of the sections also had a moderate negative phenotypic and genetic correlation with staple strength of wool staples grown over 6 months indicating that coefficient of variation of fibre diameter of any section would be as good an indirect selection criterion to improve stable strength as coefficient of variation of fibre diameter for wool grown over 6 or 12 months. The results indicate that fibre diameter, coefficient of variation of fibre diameter and fibre curvature of wool grown over short periods of time have virtually the same heritability as that of wool grown over 12 months, and that the genetic correlation between fibre diameter, coefficient of variation of fibre diameter and fibre curvature on part and on full records is very high (rg > 0.85). This indicates that fibre diameter, coefficient of variation of fibre diameter and fibre curvature on part records can be used as selection criteria to improve these traits. However, part records of greasy and clean wool growth would be much less efficient than fleece weight for wool grown over 6 or 12 months because of the low heritability of part records and the low genetic correlation between these traits on part records and on wool grown for 12 months. more »
  • Genetic Parameters for Visually Assessed Traits and Their Relationships to Wool Production and Liveweight in Australian Merino Sheep

    Heritability was estimated for a range of visually assessed traits recorded on Merino sheep, together with the phenotypic and genetic correlations among the visually assessed traits and correlations of the visually assessed traits with measured wool production traits and liveweight. Data were derived from four research resource flocks, with a range of 12 958 to 57 128 records from animals with 478 to 1491 sires for the various traits. The estimates of heritability were high for the wool quality traits of handle, wool character and wool colour (0.33–0.34) and the conformation traits of face cover, neck wrinkle and body wrinkle (0.42–0.45), moderate for front leg structure (0.18) and low for back leg structure (0.13). Fleece rot score had low heritability (0.14), while classer grade was moderately heritable (0.20). Estimates of genetic correlations among the visually assessed wool quality traits were low to moderate in size and positive (0.17–0.47). Genetic correlation estimates among the assessed conformation traits were generally very low, except for the genetic correlations between scores for neck and body wrinkle (0.92 ± 0.01) and front and back leg structure (0.31 ± 0.09). Fleece rot score had low positive genetic correlations with neck and body wrinkle scores (0.18 ± 0.05 and 0.15 ± 0.05, respectively) and classer grade (0.26 ± 0.06). Classer grade was slightly positively correlated with the wool quality traits (0.17–0.45) and leg structure traits (0.21–0.25). The genetic correlations among the visually assessed traits were generally neutral to favourable. The visually assessed wool quality traits had low to moderate favourable genetic correlations with mean and coefficient of variation of fibre diameter (0.19 –0.47), but negative correlations with clean wool yield (–0.26 to –0.37). Face cover was unfavourably correlated with staple length (–0.27 ± 0.04) and liveweight (–0.23 ± 0.02). Neck and body wrinkle scores were genetically associated with higher greasy (0.33–0.39) and clean fleece weights (0.19–0.22), greater coefficient of variation of fibre diameter (0.24–0.26) and fibre curvature (0.27–0.28), but with reduced yield (–0.26 to –0.28) and staple length (–0.34 to –0.41). Fleece rot score was genetically correlated with clean fleece weight (0.26 ± 0.05) and coefficient of variation of fibre diameter (0.27 ± 0.04). Classer grade was favourably correlated with greasy and clean fleece weights (–0.41 to –0.43), staple length (–0.29 ± 0.04), liveweight (–0.36 ± 0.03) and coefficient of variation of fibre diameter (0.27 ± 0.03). Most genetic correlations between the visually assessed traits and the measured production traits and liveweight were close to zero and less than 0.2 in magnitude. This study provides accurate values for the parameter matrix required to incorporate visually assessed traits into breeding objectives and the genetic evaluation programs used in the Australian sheep industry, allowing the development of breeding objectives and indexes that optimally combine visually assessed performance and measured production in Merino sheep. more »
  • Genetic Parameter Estimation of 16-month Live Weight and Objectively Measured Wool Traits in the Tygerhoek Merino Flock

    Genetic evaluation systems require the accurate estimation of genetic parameters. The genetic, phenotypic and environmental parameters for live weight and objectively measured wool traits were estimated for a South African Merino flock. Records of the Tygerhoek Merino resource flock were used to estimate these parameters. The database consisted of records of 4 495 animals, the progeny of 449 sires and 1 831 dams born in the period 1989 to 2004. The pedigree records used have been collected between 1969 and 2004. Direct heritability estimates (h²a) for 16-month live weight (LW) and objectively measured wool traits ranged from 0.20 for staple strength (SS) to 0.68 for fibre diameter (FD). Maternal heritability estimates ranged from 0.05 for LW and FD, to 0.10 for clean fleece weight (CFW). The proportion of the total phenotypic variance due to the maternal permanent environment variance (c²pe) amounted to 5% for fleece weights. The genetic correlation between animal effects for LW, greasy fleece weight (GFW) and CFW were -0.28, -0.65 and -0.70 respectively. The genetic correlation between LW and CFW was positive, but low at 0.14. The other important genetic correlations among the wool traits ranged from low to high, and were variable in sign ((for GFW with CFW (0.87) and with staple length (SL – 0.18); CFW with clean yield (CY – 0.33) and with SL (0.29); FD with CY (-0.09), with SL (0.15), with SS (0.40) and with standard deviation of FD (SDFD – 0.38):CY with SL (0.33) and with SDFD (0.10); SS with coefficient of variation of FD (CVFD – -0.57) and with SDFD (-0.28); CVFD with SDFD (0.87)). These results suggested that worthwhile responses in the objectively measured traits can be achieved through direct and indirect selection. more »
  • A Review of Genetic Parameter Estimates for Wool, Growth, Meat and Reproduction Traits in Sheep

    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. more »
  • Genome-Wide Association Study for Wool Production Traits in a Chinese Merino Sheep Population

    Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) provide a powerful approach for identifying quantitative trait loci without prior knowledge of location or function. To identify loci associated with wool production traits, we performed a genome-wide association study on a total of 765 Chinese Merino sheep (JunKen type) genotyped with 50 K single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). In the present study, five wool production traits were examined: fiber diameter, fiber diameter coefficient of variation, fineness dispersion, staple length and crimp. We detected 28 genome-wide significant SNPs for fiber diameter, fiber diameter coefficient of variation, fineness dispersion, and crimp trait in the Chinese Merino sheep. About 43% of the significant SNP markers were located within known or predicted genes, including YWHAZ, KRTCAP3, TSPEAR, PIK3R4, KIF16B, PTPN3, GPRC5A, DDX47, TCF9, TPTE2, EPHA5 and NBEA genes. Our results not only confirm the results of previous reports, but also provide a suite of novel SNP markers and candidate genes associated with wool traits. Our findings will be useful for exploring the genetic control of wool traits in sheep. more »