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Genet Sel Evol. 2001 May-Jun;33(3):249-71.

Genetic components of litter size variability in sheep.

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Laboratoire de génétique cellulaire, Institut national de la recherche agronomique, BP 27, 31326 Castanet-Tolosan, France.


Classical selection for increasing prolificacy in sheep leads to a concomitant increase in its variability, even though the objective of the breeder is to maximise the frequency of an intermediate litter size rather than the frequency of high litter sizes. For instance, in the Lacaune sheep breed raised in semi-intensive conditions, ewes lambing twins represent the economic optimum. Data for this breed, obtained from the national recording scheme, were analysed. Variance components were estimated in an infinitesimal model involving genes controlling the mean level as well as its environmental variability. Large heritability was found for the mean prolificacy, but a high potential for increasing the percentage of twins at lambing while reducing the environmental variability of prolificacy is also suspected. Quantification of the response to such a canalising selection was achieved.

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