Animal Science Department


Date of this Version

February 2005


Published in J. Anim. Sci. 2005. 83:786–793.


This study was conducted to evaluate the relationship between milk score (MS) and litter weight at 70 d (LW) for four sheep breeds in the United States. Milk score is a subjective measure of milk production used to assess milk production of range ewes when milk yield cannot be quantitatively determined. Variance components for MS and LW were estimated for each of Targhee, Columbia, Rambouillet, and Polypay breeds. Data collected from 1990 through 2000 at the U.S. Sheep Exp. Stn. in Dubois, ID, were analyzed with an animal model using REML. There were 13,900 records of MS and LW for 5,807 ewes. Records were grouped according to parity as first, second, and greater (mature), and all records (lifetime). Estimates of heritability for MS were in the range of 0.05 to 0.18 for first, 0.01 to 0.27 for second, 0.05 to 0.10 for mature, and 0.08 to 0.13 for all lifetime parity groups. Estimates of genetic correlation between MS at first and second parities ranged from 0.74 to 1.00. Similarly, mature MS was highly correlated genetically with MS at first (0.83 to 1.00) and at second (0.60 to 1.00) parities, suggesting that additive genetic value for milking ability at maturity could be evaluated as early as at first parity. Heritability estimates for LW ranged from 0.00 to 0.18 over all breeds and parity groupings. The genetic correlation between LW at first and second parity groups ranged from 0.43 to 1.00. Estimates of genetic correlation between LW at first or second parity with mature LW were mostly high and positive, except for Targhee (−0.10) and Polypay (0.14) at first parity. Litter weight for mature ewes could be improved by selection at first or second parity. Estimates of genetic correlation at first parity between MS and LW were high (1.00) for Rambouillet and Polypay, and near zero for Columbia and Targhee. At second parity, estimates of genetic correlation between MS and LW were positive and moderate for Rambouillet and Polypay but more variable for Columbia and Targhee. Estimates of genetic correlation between MS and LW were mostly positive and may be favorable with smaller estimates of standard errors using all lifetime records rather than first or second parity records. Although estimates are variable, the average of the estimates of the genetic correlation suggests that LW can be improved by selecting ewes for favorable MS.