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Genetic parameters for lameness, mastitis and dagginess in a multi-breed sheep population

  • A. C. O’Brien (a1) (a2), N. McHugh (a1), E. Wall (a3), T. Pabiou (a3), K. McDermott (a3), S. Randles (a3), S. Fair (a2) and D. P. Berry (a1)...


The objective of the present study was to quantify the extent of genetic variation in three health-related traits namely dagginess, lameness and mastitis, in an Irish sheep population. Each of the health traits investigated pose substantial welfare implications as well as considerable economic costs to producers. Data were also available on four body-related traits, namely body condition score (BCS), live weight, muscle depth and fat depth. Animals were categorised as lambs (<365 days old) or ewes (⩾365 days old) and were analysed both separately and combined. After edits, 39 315 records from 264 flocks between the years 2009 and 2015 inclusive were analysed. Variance components were estimated using animal linear mixed models. Fixed effects included contemporary group, represented as a three-way interaction between flock, date of inspection and animal type (i.e. lamb, yearling ewe (i.e. females ⩾365 days but <730 days old that have not yet had a recorded lambing) or ewe), animal breed proportion, coefficients of heterosis and recombination, animal gender (lambs only), animal parity (ewes only; lambs were assigned a separate ‘parity’) and the difference in age of the animal from the median of the respective parity/age group. An additive genetic effect and residual effect were both fitted as random terms with maternal genetic and non-genetic components also considered for traits of the lambs. The direct heritability of dagginess was similar across age groups (0.14 to 0.15), whereas the direct heritability of lameness ranged from 0.06 (ewes) to 0.12 (lambs). The direct heritability of mastitis was 0.04. For dagginess, 13% of the phenotypic variation was explained by dam litter, whereas the maternal heritability of dagginess was 0.05. The genetic correlation between ewe and lamb dagginess was 0.38; the correlation between ewe and lamb lameness was close to zero but was associated with a large standard error. Direct genetic correlations were evident between dagginess and BCS in ewes and between lameness and BCS in lambs. The present study has demonstrated that ample genetic variation exists for all three health traits investigated indicating that genetic improvement is indeed possible.


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