Department of Animal Science


Date of this Version



Journal of Animal Science (January 2012) 90: 142-151. DOI: 10.2527/jas.2011-4294.


Copyright 2012, American Society of Animal Science. Used by permission.


The use of terminal sires (TS) for crossbreeding is integral to the UK sheep industry where approximately 71% of market lambs are sired by TS rams. Early growth of these crossbred lambs affects profitability. The objectives of this study were i) to evaluate the effectiveness of index selection among TS on BW and ADG of their crossbred offspring; and ii) to compare the efficacy of that selection within TS breeds. The most widely used TS breeds in the United Kingdom are Charollais, Suffolk, and Texel. These participated in sire referencing schemes in which they were evaluated on a lean growth index designed to increase carcass lean weight at a given age. From 1999 to 2002, approximately 15 high and 15 low lean growth index rams per breed (93 in total, differing in index on average by 4.6 SD) were selected from within their sire referencing schemes and mated to Welsh and Scottish Mule ewes. Their crossbred offspring were reared commercially on 3 experimental farms in England, Scotland, and Wales. A total of 6,515 lambs were born between 2000 and 2003. Lambs were weighed at birth (BWT), 5 wk (5WT), and 10 wk (10WT), and their ADG from birth to 10 wk was calculated. Lambs sired by high index rams were on average, across breeds, heavier at all ages (P < 0.01) with 0.07 ± 0.03, 0.3 ± 0.1, and 0.4 ± 0.1 kg greater BWT, 5WT, and 10WT, respectively. Their ADG was 5.1 ± 1.9 g/d greater than low-index-sired lambs (P < 0.01). Suffolk-sired lambs were on average heavier at all ages, with greater ADG, whereas Charollais-sired lambs were lightest with smallest ADG. Overall, there was no significant interaction between sire index and sire breed (P > 0.10). Within Suffolk-sired lambs, there was little difference between high and low index sires for the traits studied (P > 0.3). High and low index Charollais-sired lambs differed in BWT (0.09 ± 0.04 kg) and 5WT (0.3 ± 0.1 kg), and Texel-sired lambs differed in 5WT (0.5 ± 0.1 kg), 10WT (0.9 ± 0.2 kg), and ADG (10.2 ± 3.3 g/d; P < 0.01). Lambs from Scottish Mule dams were heavier, with greater ADG, than lambs born to Welsh Mules (P < 0.01). Lambs reared in Scotland were heavier at all ages (P < 0.01). The results suggest that using index selection in TS can improve the growth of their commercial offspring reared on grass.