Animal Science Department


Date of this Version

March 1999


Published in J. Anim. Sci. 1999. 77:2357–2365.


Genetic parameters for prolificacy traits for Columbia (COLU), Polypay (POLY), Rambouillet (RAMB), and Targhee (TARG) breeds of sheep were estimated with REML using animal models. Traits were number of live births (LAB), litter size at birth (LSB) and weaning (LSW), and litter weight weaned (LWW). Numbers of observations ranged from 5,140 to 7,095 for prolificacy traits and from 5,101 to 8,973 for litter weight weaned for the four breeds. For single-trait analyses, ewes were classified as young (1 yr old), middle-aged (2 and 3 yr old), or older (> 3 yr old). After single-trait analyses, three-trait analyses were done for each characteristic with traits defined by age class. Generally, heritability estimates from single-trait analyses were low and ranged from .01 to .17 for LAB and LSB and from .00 to .10 for LSW. Heritability estimates obtained for LWW ranged from low to moderate (.00 to .25) and were less for older ewes. Heritability estimates from the three-trait analyses were generally similar to estimates from single-trait analyses. Heritabilities for LAB and LSB were similar, and, for three-trait analyses, they ranged across age groups from .07 to .13 for COLU, .13 to .16 for POLY, .10 to .16 for RAMB, and .01 to .16 for TARG. Estimates for LSW from three-trait analyses ranged from .07 to .12 for COLU, .04 to .09 for POLY, .01 to .11 for RAMB, and .03 to .11 for TARG. For LWW, heritabilities ranged from .00 to .21 for COLU, .05 to .08 for POLY, .12 to .15 for RAMB, and .18 to .29 for TARG. Genetic correlations for LAB, LSB and LSW among age-defined traits ranged from .25 to 1.00. Genetic correlations for LAB and LSB between young and middle and between young and older age classes were less than .80 in COLU, POLY, and RAMB breeds. Only genetic correlations between middle and older age classes for these breeds were greater than .80. For TARG, genetic correlations among all age classes were greater than .80 (.88 to 1.00) for those traits. All genetic correlations among ages for LSW were greater than .80 for POLY and TARG. For RAMB, only the correlation between young and older age classes for LSW was less than .80 (.45). None was greater than .80 for COLU. For LWW, genetic correlations among all age classes in POLY and RAMB were greater than .80 (.82 to 1.00). For COLU, genetic correlation between young and middle was low (.07), between young and older was high (.88), and between middle and older classes was moderately high (.54). For TARG, genetic correlations were .49, .65, and .98 for young-middle, young-older, and middle-older age classes, respectively. Results indicate that more progress could be made in selection programs for prolificacy traits in some sheep breeds by considering age of ewe as a part of the trait rather than by simply adjusting for ages of ewes.