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Title: Impact of young ewe fertility rate on risk and genetic gain in sheep-breeding programs using genomic selection
Contributor(s): Newton, J E (author); Brown, Daniel (author); Dominik, Sonja (author)orcid ; Van Der Werf, Julius H (author)orcid 
Publication Date: 2017
DOI: 10.1071/an15321
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Abstract: Genomic selection could be useful in sheep-breeding programs, especially if rams and ewes are first mated at an earlier age than is the current industry practice. However, young-ewe (1 year old) fertility rates are known to be lower and more variable than those of mature ewes. The aim of the present study was to evaluate how young-ewe fertility rate affects risk and expected genetic gain in Australian sheep-breeding programs that use genomic information and select ewes and rams at different ages. The study used stochastic simulation to model different flock age structures and young-ewe fertility levels with and without genomic information for Merino and maternal sheep-breeding programs. The results from 10 years of selection were used to compare breeding programs on the basis of the mean and variation in genetic gain. Ram and ewe age, availability of genomic information on males and young-ewe fertility level all significantly (P < 0.05) affected expected genetic gain. Higher young-ewe fertility rates significantly increased expected genetic gain. Low fertility rate of young ewes (10%) resulted in net genetic gain similar to not selecting ewes until they were 19 months old and did not increase breeding-program risk, as the likelihood of genetic gain being lower than the range of possible solutions from a breeding program with late selection of both sexes was zero. Genomic information was of significantly (P < 0.05) more value for 1-year-old rams than for 2-year-old rams. Unless genomic information was available, early mating of rams offered no greater gain in Merino breeding programs and increased breeding-program risk. It is concluded that genomic information decreases the risk associated with selecting replacements at 7 months of age. Genetic progress is unlikely to be adversely affected if fertility levels above 10% can be achieved. Whether the joining of young ewes is a viable management decision for a breeder will depend on the fertility level that can be achieved in their young ewes and on other costs associated with the early mating of ewes.
Publication Type: Journal Article
Source of Publication: Animal Production Science, 57(8), p. 1653-1664
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Place of Publication: Australia
ISSN: 1836-0939
Field of Research (FOR): 070201 Animal Breeding
Peer Reviewed: Yes
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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