Thursday, November 8, 2007

Less wool on breech and belly

New Zealand researchers are breeding sheep with less wool on the breech (coarse hair fibers on lower legs) and belly. While wool returns are still a signficant part of sheep income (in New Zealand), some farmers would prefer a sheep with less wool on the breech and belly. They are prepared to have a slightly lower fleece weight in exchange for reduced costs and easier management.

Since 1997, sheep at AgResearch's Winchmore Research Station have been selectively bred for bare heads, legs, belly, and backsides. The easiest trait to select for is a short tail. This is because tail length of groups of offspring is always halfway between that of the sire and dam. Heritability is estimated to be 0.84.

A bare belly is the most difficult trait to select for because it is rare to find sheep with bare bellies. Breech bareness has a heritablity of 0.31, while the length of bare skin under the tail has a heritability of 0.45. These bareness traits are as heritable as some traits for reproduction and growth (between 0.05 and 0.25).

There are numerous benefits to having sheep with less wool on the breech and belly: less dags (wool contaminated with feces) and flystrike, less contamination of wool, less work, less chance of cut teats, less chance of seed damage, and less wear and tear on combs and cutters by having less mud attached to leg wool.

Read R&D Brief from Meat & Wool New Zealand