Breeding and genetics

Comparison of the longevity and lifetime performance of Scottish Blackface ewes and their crosses within hill sheep flocks

R. W. Annetta1 c1, A. F. Carsona1, L. E. R. Dawsona1, D. Irwina1, A. W. Gordona2 and D. J. Kilpatricka2

a1 Agriculture Branch, Agri-food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI), Large Park, Hillsborough, County Down, Northern Ireland, BT26 6DR, UK

a2 AFBI Biometrics Division, Newforge Lane, Belfast, BT9 5PX, UK


A study was undertaken to compare the longevity and lifetime lamb output of purebred Scottish Blackface (BF) ewes with a range of crossbred genotypes from Scottish BF dams. For up to five successive breeding seasons, 1143 Scottish BF, Swaledale × BF (SW × BF), North Country Cheviot × BF (CH × BF), Lleyn × BF (LL × BF) and Texel × BF (T × BF) ewes were mated to a range of sire breeds on six hill farms across Northern Ireland. Dentition and lamb output were recorded annually until completion of the study or until the ewe was removed due to death or culling. Timing of mortality and the main reason for culling were also recorded. When survival analysis was undertaken, SW × BF and CH × BF ewes had better longevity (P < 0.05) than BF ewes due to their lower culling rate (P < 0.01) and lower mortality rate (P = 0.06), respectively. The relative proportion of LL × BF and T × BF culled due to infertility was lower (P < 0.05) than SW × BF and CH × BF, while a higher (P < 0.05) proportion of LL × BF and T × BF ewes were culled for prolapses compared with the other breed crosses. SW × BF ewes had consistently higher bite scores (P < 0.001) compared with BF, LL × BF and T × BF, indicating a greater prevalence and degree of overshoot. In ewes aged 5.5 years old, SW × BF also had a higher incidence of tooth loss (P < 0.01) compared with the other breeds. However, the proportion of SW × BF culled due to poor teeth condition was lower (P < 0.05) than BF. Across all breeds, the chances of surviving to their next mating were influenced by ewe breed (P < 0.05), age at mating (P < 0.001), body condition score at weaning (P < 0.001), number of missing teeth (P < 0.001) and average daily live weight gain per litter (P < 0.05). The cumulative number and weight of lambs weaned per ewe over five successive matings was higher (P < 0.05) for crossbred compared with pure BF ewes; however there were no differences in lifetime output between the different crossbred ewes studied. This study demonstrates that the higher lamb output of crossbred hill ewes does not compromise their longevity compared with pure Blackface, resulting in greater total lifetime production. When the crossbred ewes are sired by a second hill breed, longevity may be improved.

(Received March 31 2010)

(Accepted September 20 2010)

(Online publication October 29 2010)


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