Effects of birth-rearing type on weaning weights in meat sheep are systematically associated with differences in mean performance among flocks
Background Adjustment of body weights for systematic environmental effects such as dam age and litter size is essential for accurate prediction of breeding values in meat sheep and often accomplished by pre-adjusting records using simple multiplicative adjustment factors, which are derived as ratios of least-squares means of weights of lambs in target and reference classes. However, increasing use of multibreed genetic evaluations that incorporate data from both purebred and commercial flocks has generated concerns regarding the ability of simple additive or multiplicative adjustment factors to properly correct for environmental effects in flocks that differ widely in mean performance. Thus, consistency of adjustment factors across flocks and systematic effects of the level of flock performance on these factors were evaluated using data from the US National Sheep Improvement Program. Methods We used birth and weaning weights of lambs from 29 flocks that had at least 500 records per flock and represented several terminal-sire sheep breeds. Effects of lamb sex, dam age class and litter size on birth weights, and of dam age class and combined effects of type of birth and rearing on weaning weights were evaluated. Interactions between these effects and flock were assessed. Bias associated with different adjustment protocols was evaluated for high- and low-performance flocks. Results Effects of litter size and differences between yearling and adult dams varied (P < 0.001) among flocks. For weaning weights, additive adjustment factors were not associated with the level of flock performance, but multiplicative adjustment factors were strongly and inversely related to flock means for weaning weights (W). Flock-specific adjustment factors (F = αWβ) reduced bias in adjusted weaning weights associated with differences in flock performance. By contrast, simple multiplicative adjustment factors were appropriate to adjust birth weights. Conclusions Differences in weaning weights among single, twin, and triplet lambs were inversely related to the level of flock performance. Use of simple multiplicative adjustment factors led to adjustment bias when applied across flocks with large differences in mean performance. This bias was reduced by using additive adjustment factors or multiplicative factors that were derived as simple exponential functions of flock means for weaning weight.