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ARS Home » Plains Area » Clay Center, Nebraska » U.S. Meat Animal Research Center » Genetics, Breeding, and Animal Health Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #374797

Research Project: Developing a Systems Biology Approach to Enhance Efficiency and Sustainability of Beef and Lamb Production

Location: Genetics, Breeding, and Animal Health Research

Title: Genetic and non-genetic factors influencing ewe prolificacy and lamb body weight in a closed Romanov flock

item Murphy Jr, Thomas
item Freking, Bradley - Brad
item Keele, John

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 8/20/2020
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: N/A

Interpretive Summary: The Romanov breed originates from Russia and was first imported into the U.S. by the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in the late 1980s and has since been distributed throughout the country. This breed is unique to other popular domestic breeds due to its enhanced fertility throughout the year and superior litter size of ewes. It has contributed to the development of composite sheep breeds with improved reproductive performance, trait complexes that have the greatest contribution to production efficiency and profitability. However, fewer studies have evaluated factors contributing to ewe reproduction and lamb growth within purebred Romanov flocks. Results from the present study agree with others – number of lambs born per ewe increases with age and most of its variation is associated with non-genetic factors (i.e., it is lowly heritable). Additionally, the ram a ewe is bred to contributes little to her subsequent litter size. Lamb body weights at birth and weaning from either milk replacer or their dam were also lowly heritable traits but genetically correlated with one another. Due to the limited gene pool the USMARC Romanov flocks originated from, the degree of inbreeding has increased, and this can have negative impacts in future generations. This is the first to report genetic parameter estimates in a U.S. Romanov flock and results can be used to identify individuals that can improve animal health and performance while maintaining genetic diversity.

Technical Abstract: The U.S. Meat Animal Research Center was the first entity in the country to import the Romanov breed and it has been maintained as a closed flock for over 30 yr. Incorporating this super-prolific breed into crossbred and composite populations has documented large improvements in ewe productivity. However, few have quantified factors contributing to genetic and non-genetic variation in ewe reproduction and lamb growth within purebred Romanov populations, which were the objectives of this study. The pedigree contained a total of 8683 lambs born to 218 and 1600 unique sires and dams, respectively. Number of lambs born on a per ewe exposed (NLBE) and lambing (NLBL) basis were analyzed in univariate repeatability animal models. As expected, the proportion of phenotypic variance (s_P^2) in litter size attributable to additive genetic (0.06 – 0.08) and permanent environmental (0.05 – 0.07) effects of the ewe was low. The service sire permanent environmental effect contributed to a small but significant amount of s_P^2 in NLBE (0.03) but not NLBL. However, the service sire additive genetic effect did not influence s_P^2 in NLBE or NLBL. Lamb BW was recorded at birth (BWB) and upon weaning from either milk replacer (~30 d; BWW-N) or their dam (~60 d; BWW-D) and were analyzed in a 3-trait model with random additive direct and maternal effects. Estimated direct heritabilities were low for all BW traits (0.07 – 0.10). Maternal heritability was moderate BWB (0.34) but low for weaning BW (0.11 – 0.18). This was the first to report direct and maternal genetic correlations between BW of nursery- and dam-reared lambs, and both were estimated to be moderate (0.43 – 0.47). Additionally, direct and maternal effects of BWB were more strongly correlated with BWW-N (0.74 – 0.82) than BWW-D (0.17 – 0.33). Despite inbreeding coefficients having increased at a rate of 0.33% per birth year (1986 – 2019) in this flock, they were not consistently associated with reductions in ewe or lamb performance. Parameter estimates generally agreed with those from less prolific breeds and results indicate selection can be an effective means of improving sub-components of ewe productivity.