Testing selection indices for sustainable hill sheep production - lamb growth and carcass traits

J. Conington*, S. C. Bishop, N. R. Lambe, L. Bunger, Geoff Simm

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Two selection indexes, one intended for lamb producers and finishers and one for store lamb producers, were derived using genetic parameters for carcass and maternal characteristics from Conington et al. (2001) and economic values from Conington et al. (2004). This paper summarizes responses to selection for lamb traits only, after 5 years of selection (1998 to 2003) on two farms using these selection indexes. The index for lamb producers and finishers, evaluated on farm 1, with a flock size of 680 ewes, includes economic weightings for maternal traits as well as carcass weight, fat and conformation grades, whereas the index for store lamb producers, evaluated on farm 2, with a flock size of 580 ewes, only includes economic values for maternal traits and lamb growth to weaning. Three selection lines of Scottish Blackface sheep per farm were created with the first lambs born to each line in 1999. These lines were selection (S), control (C) and industry (I); they were of equal size on each farm. Five top- and five average-performing ram lambs were selected each year for the S and C lines respectively using a multi-trait best linear unbiased prediction (BLUP) implementation of the indexes. The I-line used four mature rams bought from industry, selected on appearance only, i.e. adherence to breed 'type'. Results showed that 5 years after the implementation of the index, the S line had significantly higher index scores than the C or I lines on both farms. The means (s.d.) for the average index scores in 2003 are 114 (328), 119 (371) and 451 (328) (farm 1), and -8 (146), -11 (130), and 250 (129) (farm 2) for the C, I and S lines, respectively, giving predicted net differences (S-C) of 3 pound center dot 38 (farm 1) and 2 pound center dot 58 (farm 2) per ewe. Phenotypic responses showed significant S v. C differences in weaning weight on both farms. As predicted from previous analyses, no changes in carcass quality traits were seen at farm 1 although S-line carcass weights tended to be heavier than those from the C or I lines. The results show that genetic improvement using multi-trait selection indices has been successful and it is a viable, long-term strategy to improve levels of production for hill sheep in extensive environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)445-453
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal science
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2006


  • carcasses
  • genetics
  • growth
  • selection index
  • sheep


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