Genetic evaluation of crossbred lamb production. 1. Breed and fixed effects for birth and weaning weight of first-cross lambs, gestation length, and reproduction of base ewes
This is the first paper in a series that reports on a national maternal sire central progeny test program (MCPT) to evaluate the genetic variation for economically important production traits in first- and second-cross progeny of maternal and dual purpose (meat and wool) sires and the scope for genetic improvement. The MCPT program also provides direct linkages between breeds that will contribute information for across-breed genetic evaluation. Crossbred progeny by 91 sires from more than 7 maternal breeds (including Border Leicester, East Friesian, Finnsheep, Coopworth, White Suffolk, Corriedale, and Booroola Leicester) at 3 sites over 3 years with 3 link sires in common at each site and year were evaluated in this study. National estimated breeding values for the sires that were entered by industry breeders indicated that there was some selection for weight, but not other traits and the sires were generally representative of the maternal genetics available to the industry. There were 8377 base Merino and Corriedale ewes artificially inseminated with thawed-frozen semen from the 91 sires and 8193 crossbred lambs born and 6117 lambs weaned. Mixed model analyses of birth and weaning weight, lamb survival, and gestation length as well as fertility, litter size, and lamb weaning rate of the base ewes are reported. Sire breed was significant for birth weight (with a range of 4.0–4.4 kg at an average litter size of 1.8) and weaning weight (19.6–22.5 kg), as well as lamb survival (70–79%) and gestation length (147.1–150.3 days). Birth/rearing type was significant for all traits. Males were significantly heavier than females at birth and weaning, although there was no sex difference for lamb survival or gestation length when birthweight was included in the model. Pregnancy rate from the artificially inseminated base ewes varied from 40 to 84% at the 3 locations in the various years. Sire breed was significant for the number of lambs weaned per ewe lambing, but not for fetal number or litter size born. There were also significant differences in performance due to the source of the base ewes at each site.