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Effects of inbreeding and other genetic components on equine fertility

Sairanen, J., Nivola, K., Katila, T., Virtala, A.M., Ojala, M.
Animal 2009 v.3 no.12 pp. 1662-1672
horses, inbreeding, female fertility, heritability, prediction, probability analysis, pregnancy rate, foaling, horse breeds, Standardbred, animal age, maternal effect, sire evaluation, breeding methods, environmental factors, inbreeding coefficient, breed differences, breeding value, Finland
The Finnish mating records of Standardbred trotters (SB; n = 33 679) and Finnhorses (FH; n = 32 731) were analysed to study the effect of the level of inbreeding on foaling rates and to estimate the heritability of foaling rate. A linear mixed model was assumed, with the outcome of the foaling (foal or no foal) as the trait of the study. A restricted maximum likelihood-based method was used to calculate the estimates of the variance components. Predictions of breeding values and estimates of fixed effects were also calculated. The average level of inbreeding was 9.9% in the SB and 3.6% in the FH. The average foaling rates were better in the SB (72.6%) than in the FH (66.3%), but within each breed intense inbreeding had a statistically significant negative effect on foaling rate (P < 0.05). Also, the mating type, the age and breeding type of the mare, and the age of the stallion had statistically significant effects on foaling rate (P < 0.001). The heritability of foaling rate was between 3.4% and 3.7% in SBs and between 5.5% and 9.8% in FHs, when the outcome of the foaling was considered to be a trait of the expected foal. With the same model, the estimates of maternal genetic effect were 4.7% for SBs and 3.2% for FHs, and the estimates of the permanent environmental effects of the stallion were between 1.3% and 1.7%. Avoiding matings with very high inbreeding coefficients would improve foaling rates. It would also be possible to devise a breeding program for better equine fertility, but because the heritability is low, improvement of environmental factors deserves special attention.