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Environmental and genetic factors influence the liveweight of adult Merino and Border Leicester × Merino ewes across multiple sites and years

Blumer, S. E., Gardner, G. E., Ferguson, M. B., Thompson, A. N.
Animal production science 2016 v.56 no.4 pp. 775-788
Border Leicester, Merino, adults, body weight, breeding value, dietary supplements, ewes, farm profitability, flocks, liveweight gain, muscles, reproductive performance, sires, stocking rate, Australia
Variation in liveweight change in the ewe flock during periods of poor nutrition can affect farm profitability through the effects of liveweight loss on potential stocking rate, management interventions including supplementary feeding, and ewe and lamb survival and productivity. There is variation between individual animals in their ability to manage periods of poor nutrition, but the links between liveweight change and breeding values in the adult ewe flock have not been quantified. We analysed 5216 liveweight profiles for 2772 ewes managed over 3 years at eight sites across Australia, to define the relative effects of environment, reproductive performance and breeding values on liveweight change. The range in liveweight loss varied from 1.3 kg to 21.6 kg, and for liveweight gain from 0.4 kg to 28.1 kg. Site and year had the largest influence on liveweight change, which demonstrates that seasonal conditions and management were the most important factors influencing liveweight change. Liveweight loss was influenced by previous and current reproductive performance but these effects were small in comparison to the effects of site and year. There were mixed associations with sire breeding values for growth, fat and muscle depending on site. An increase in sire breeding values for fat by 1 mm was associated with a reduction in liveweight loss by up to 1.3 kg regardless of ewe breed, and this was more evident at sites where ewes lost a greater proportion of their liveweight. While management had the greatest effect on liveweight change, there appears to be scope to use breeding values to select sheep that will lose less weight during periods of poor nutrition in some environments.