Date of this Version
Márquez, Haresign, Davies, Notter, Roehe, Bünger, Simm & Lewis in Journal of Animal Science (2013) 91. doi:10.2527/jas2012-6093
Days to harvest (DTH) is the number of days a lamb is fed before reaching a target level of fatness. Although economically relevant, this trait has not been thoroughly evaluated in sheep. Most lambs harvested in the United Kingdom are crossbreds sired by purebred terminal sires, with Charollais, Suffolk, and Texel most commonly used. Sires from these breeds were selected on an index designed to increase lean growth while constraining fat. The purpose of this research was to 1) evaluate the effects of index selection in terminal sires on DTH and 2) evaluate the feasibility of incorporating DTH into genetic evaluation programs. Charollais, Suffolk, and Texel sheep had participated in sire referencing schemes where genetic links among flocks were established by sharing rams. Rams with high or low index scores were chosen from these schemes and mated to crossbred ewes at 3 farms in the United Kingdom. Lambs were harvested at a target 11% subcutaneous fat. Records on DTH from 6,350 lambs were analyzed in 2 ways: 1) as time to harvest fitting a survival model and 2) as a normally distributed variable in a bivariate analysis with weight at harvest. The survival analysis was stratified by rearing type (single or twin). In both approaches, sires were fitted using a multivariate normal distribution with a relationship matrix. Regardless of model fitted, sire index did not affect DTH (P > 0.10). However, Texel-sired lambs reached harvest faster (P < 0.01) than either Charollais- or Suffolk-sired lambs although DTH in those 2 breed types did not differ (P > 0.1). Ewe lambs reached harvest faster than wethers (P < 0.01). Lambs from older ewes were harvested faster (P < 0.001). The heritability of DTH was 0.21 from the survival model and 0.20 from the bivariate model. Rank correlation of sire EBV between methods was 0.9, suggesting strong agreement. The use of high or low index sires did not extend DTH in lambs harvested at a target fatness. Importantly, there is no antagonism between improving carcass merit and extending the grazing season. Furthermore, DTH is moderately heritable. If economically justified within a breeding program, it could be reduced through genetic selection.