Genetic evaluation of maternal behaviour and temperament in Australian sheep

D.J. Brown, N.M. Fogarty, C.L. Iker, D.M. Ferguson, Dominique Blache, G.M. Gaunt

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19 Citations (Scopus)


© CSIRO 2016. The temperament of ewes and maternal behaviour at lambing has been implicated as contributing factors to lamb survival. Some 14054 records of maternal behaviour score (MBS, 1 ≤ good, 5 ≤ poor) were collected at lamb tagging from 32 breeds of sheep over several years in a variety of environments. Records for two objectively scored temperament traits, flight time from a weighing crate (FT) and agitation score in an isolation box test (IBT) were available on 19151 and 17159 animals, respectively. These data were pooled from three sources, which included research and commercial ram breeding flocks. The combined data were also split into three subsets based on breed groups (Merino, Maternal and Terminal) for analyses. Records of weights and number of lambs weaned (NLW), as well as pedigree information was available from the national genetic evaluation database. The heritability estimates from the combined analyses were 0.20 ± 0.02 for MBS, 0.18 ± 0.02 for FT and 0.26 ± 0.02 for IBT, with a repeatability of 0.24 ± 0.01 for MBS. There were some small differences between the breed groups in the heritability estimates. The genetic correlations between FT and MBS were negative (favourable) and consistent across the datasets (-0.47 ± 0.12, combined analysis). The genetic correlations between IBT and MBS were positive (favourable) but not significant (0.12 ± 0.11, combined analysis). The genetic correlations between IBT and FT were also favourable, but small and generally not significant. There were small favourable genetic correlations between MBS and various bodyweights (-0.17 ± 0.07, yearling) and NLW (-0.25 ± 0.07). However, there were no significant genetic relationships between the temperament and production traits. The moderate heritability and repeatability of MBS indicate maternal behaviour could be improved by selection, and that it could be a useful additional trait in breeding programs for improved reproduction.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)767-774
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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