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Selection for growth, muscling and fatness alters the maternal performance and intermediary metabolism of Merino ewes

Ferguson, Mark (2012) Selection for growth, muscling and fatness alters the maternal performance and intermediary metabolism of Merino ewes. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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There is growing interest in selectively breeding Merinos with higher growth and muscling and lower fatness. The effects of selection for these traits on ewe intermediary metabolism, body composition, reproduction and milk production and on lamb birthweight, survival and growth were studied in a series of experiments and analyses.

Ewes with higher genetic propensity for early growth had higher mature weight, reproductive rate, lamb birthweight, ewe milk production and lamb growth rate. Ewes with higher growth also had a higher circulating level of growth hormone during lactation.

Ewes with higher genetic propensity for muscling had a higher reproductive rate and produced lambs that were lighter at birth, but this did not result in lower lamb survival. Ewes with higher muscling maintained a higher condition score which may be at least partly attributed to a lower response to adrenaline at the level of the muscle in these higher muscled ewes. Similarly higher muscled ewes had lower growth hormone concentration in lactation which would result in lower mobilisation of tissues. In addition peripheral tissues were less responsive to insulin in high muscled ewes and blood glucose levels were also higher during the non-breeding state in high muscled ewes.

The genetic fatness of ewes was positively associated with lamb birthweight but only when nutrition was restricted suggesting that ewes with a higher genetic propensity for fatness can buffer lamb birthweight under periods of poor nutrition. Ewes with higher genetic fatness had lower circulating growth hormone and a greater response to insulin providing potential mechanisms for the observed higher fatness. Furthermore, response to adrenaline at the level of liver was greater in ewes with higher fatness suggestive of a higher capacity for gluconeogenesis. The combined results of this work suggest that actively selecting Merino ewes to have higher growth, muscling and fatness is likely to have positive reproduction and therefore economic outcomes.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Supervisor(s): Gardner, Graham and Pethick, David
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