• Sire Genetics, Protein Supplementation and Gender Effects on Wool Comfort Factor in Australian Crossbred Sheep

    Aims: To investigate the effects of sire genetics, nutrition, level of supplementation, gender and their interactions on wool comfort factor (CF) and its correlation with other wool quality traits in crossbred sheep either grazing or supplemented with dietary protein. Study design: A 5 x 2 x 2 x 2 factorial experimental design comprising five sire breeds, two dietary protein sources, two supplementation levels and two sexes respectively, was utilized. Place and Duration of Study: University of Tasmania Farm, Cambridge, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, between April 2008 and November 2010. Methodology: Texel, Coopworth, White Suffolk, East-Friesian and Dorset sires were joined with 500 Merino ewes at a mating ratio of 1:100 in individual paddocks. Five hundred of the crossbred progeny were raised on pastures until weaning at 12 weeks of age. Forty of the weaners with an initial body weight (BW) range of 23-31 kg (average of 27 ± 3.2 kg) were fed with lupins or canola at 1 or 2% BW for 6 weeks in individual metabolic crates. CF and other wool quality traits were commercially measured at the Australian Wool Testing Authority, Melbourne. The data were analyzed in SAS using MIXED model procedures with sire fitted as a random effect, while sire breed, nutrition, supplement, level of supplementation and gender and their interactions were fitted as fixed effects. Results: CF was significantly correlated with fiber diameter (-0.89), spinning fineness (-0.95) and wool curvature (0.33). Grass-fed sheep produced wool with significantly higher comfort factor (93.1±0.3%) than supplemented sheep (CF=85.9±1.1%). Sire genetics was a significant source of CF variation; White Suffolk crosses had the highest CF (90.1±8.7) and East-Friesian crosses the least (81.5 ± 10.1%). Males fed canola at 1%BW had the highest CF (90.8 ± 7.0%), while females fed lupins at 1% BW had the least (81.1±10.8%). Conclusion: From a practical point of view, sheep farmers engaging in prime lamb production with wool comfort factor as an additional breeding objective should concentrate their effort on grass-feeding White Suffolk x Merino wethers. During the winter feed gap, supplementing the wethers with canola at 1% BW will not compromise wool CF. more »
  • Major Genes and QTL Influencing Wool Production and Quality: A Review

    The opportunity exists to utilise our knowledge of major genes that influence the economically important traits in wool sheep. Genes with Mendelian inheritance have been identified for many important traits in wool sheep. Of particular importance are genes influencing pigmentation, wool quality and the keratin proteins, the latter of which are important for the morphology of the wool fibre. Gene mapping studies have identified some chromosomal regions associated with variation in wool quality and production traits. The challenge now is to build on this knowledge base in a cost-effective way to deliver molecular tools that facilitate enhanced genetic improvement programs for wool sheep. more »
  • 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 »