Genomic, microbial, and linear relationships between residual feed intake, dry matter intake, average daily gain, and post weaning weights in range sheep
Schaub, Daniel James
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Over forty years, United States sheep producers have selectively bred range sheep for larger post-weaning weights using estimated breeding values. However, this has led to increased feed intake, prompting this study's objective to quantify the relationship between lamb growth estimated breeding values, feed intake, and feed efficiency. The study involved 40 Targhee and 40 Rambouillet ewe lambs weaned at four months and put on a GrowsafeTM feeding system for a 56-day experimental period, with ewes weighed weekly and at the start and end of the trial. Residual feed intake was calculated using body weights, average daily gain, and daily feed intake measurements. The ewe lambs' post-weaning weight estimated breeding value was associated to their phenotypic traits. These procedures were repeated when the same ewes were yearlings and at maintenance. The study found that while post-weaning weight estimated breeding values predicted dry matter intake (P<0.05), they lacked association with residual feed intake (P>0.05) in both experimental periods. However, the ewe's post-weaning weight estimated breeding value predicted mid-trial body weight in both periods (P<0.05). Thus, while selecting higher post- weaning weight animals may increase feed usage due to larger body size, it does not affect feed efficiency. Comparing the residual feed intake between the two experimental periods, growth residual feed intake measurements did not predict residual feed intake in maintenance. Therefore, caution should be used when utilizing residual feed intake from the growth period as an indicator of feed efficiency in maintenance. The study also examined rumen microbial profiles in sheep between the two experimental periods. Methanogenic archaea were relatively increased within the growth experimental period, where a pelleted diet was used, and cellulolytic bacteria were increased in the maintenance experimental period, where hay was provided. Since methanogens are associated with decreased feed efficiency, diet may play a role in changing a sheep's microbiome towards more feed efficient bacteria. Finally, a genome-wide association study found the Dmrt2 gene associated with DMI and RFI in maintenance. The Dmrt2 gene may regulate muscle and bone development in the early embryo, affecting feed efficiency in sheep later in life.