Fleece weight and shedding score, a measure of premature fleece loss, were examined at first shearing and in older female sheep of three hilt breeds and their reciprocal crosses. Starting from a non-inbred base, the sheep were mated, mostly by younger-parent × offspring, for four generations, to produce inbreeding coefficients from 0·25 to 0·59. Crosses of inbred lines were also produced within breed type. The experimental design allowed the effects of inbreeding of the individual to be separated from the effects of maternal inbreeding.
Inbreeding of the individual significantly and linearly reduced fleece weight. This effect was still apparent after adjustment for body weight. Maternal inbreeding significantly reduced only the weight of first fleeces, but the trends were similar at the later ages, especially among the purebreds. There was no significant interaction of purebred/crossbred status with level of inbreeding. Inbreeding did not significantly affect shedding score. The pure breeds and the crosses did not differ, on average, in fleece weights or shedding scores, but within the purebred and within the crossbred classes breed variation was significant. Fleece weight declined and the incidence of shedding increased with increasing age. The larger the number of lambs born in the year of shearing the lower the fleece weight and the greater the extent of fleece shedding.
The effects of inbreeding could not be fully explained, statistically, in terms of dominance alone. Therefore, it seems probable that epistasis also plays a role in producing the observed changes with inbreeding in these traits.