Genetic parameters for ewe reproductive performance and peri-parturient fecal egg counts and their genetic relationships with lamb body weights and fecal egg counts in Katahdin sheep

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© The Author(s) 2018. This study estimated genetic parameters for ewe reproductive traits [number of lambs born (NLB) and weaned (NLW) per ewe lambing] and fecal egg counts (FEC) during the peri-parturient rise (PPR) for use in genetic evaluation of Katahdin sheep. Data included NLB and NLW for 23,060 lambings by 9,295 Katahdin ewes, 1,230 PPR at lambing (PPR0) for 750 ewes, 1,070 PPR at approximately 30 d postpartum (PPR30) for 611 ewes, BW at birth, weaning, and (or) post-weaning for 12,869 lambs, and FEC at weaning and (or) post-weaning for 4,676 lambs. Direct additive, permanent environmental, and residual (co)variances were estimated in univariate and bivariate animal models. Fixed effects included effects of ewe management group and ewe age for all traits, and, for PPR, a continuous effect of days between lambing and measurement. Effects of litter size on PPR0 and number of lambs suckled on PPR30 were included in univariate models but excluded from bivariate models for PPR and NLB or NLW. Heritability estimates in univariate models for NLB, NLW, PPR0, and PPR30 were 0.09 ± 0.01, 0.06 ± 0.01, 0.35 ± 0.06, and 0.24 ± 0.07, respectively. Estimates of permanent environmental variance as a proportion of total phenotypic variance were 0.02 ± 0.01 for NLB, 0.03 ± 0.01 for NLW, 0.05 ± 0.06 for PPR0, and 0.13 ± 0.07 for PPR30. Direct additive, phenotypic, permanent environmental, and residual correlations between NLB and NLW were 0.88 ± 0.03, 0.74 ± 0.004, 0.54 ± 0.15, 0.74 ± 0.003, respectively; corresponding correlations between PPR0 and PPR30 were 0.96 ± 0.07, 0.46 ± 0.03, 0.98 ± 0.50, 0.18 ± 0.05, respectively. The additive genetic correlation (rd) between ewe reproductive traits and PPR ranged from 0.12 to 0.18. Estimates of rd between lamb BW and subsequent ewe NLB and NLW ranged from 0.07 to 0.20, and those between PPR and lamb BW ranged from −0.03 to 0.29. The rd between ewe reproductive traits and lamb FEC ranged from 0.27 to 0.40, and those between PPR and lamb FEC ranged from 0.56 to 0.77. Correlations between maternal additive effects on BW and direct additive effects on PPR were low (−0.08 to 0.10), and those between maternal additive effects on BW and direct additive effects on ewe reproductive traits were variable (−0.36 to 0.11). We conclude that FEC in growing lambs and peri-parturient ewes are controlled by similar genes and that modest, but manageable, genetic antagonisms may exist between FEC and ewe productivity.

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Journal of Animal Science

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