Animal Board Invited Review: Meta-analysis of genetic parameters for resilience and efficiency traits in goats and sheep

S. Mucha*, F. Tortereau, A. Doeschl-Wilson, R. Rupp, J. Conington

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
74 Downloads (Pure)


Genetic selection focused purely on production traits has proven very successful in improving the productive performance of livestock. However, heightened environmental and infectious disease challenges have raised the need to also improve the resilience of animals to such external stressors, as well as their efficiency in utilising available resources. A better understanding of the relationship between efficiency and production and health traits is needed to properly account for it in breeding programmes and to produce animals that can maintain high production performance in a range of environmental conditions with minimal environmental footprint. The aim of this study was to perform a meta-analysis of genetic parameters for production, efficiency and health traits in sheep and goats. The dataset comprised 963 estimates of heritability and 572 genetic correlations collated from 162 published studies. A threelevel meta-analysis model was fitted. Pooled heritability estimates for milk production traits ranged between 0.27 ± 0.03 and 0.48 ± 0.13 in dairy goats and between 0.21 ± 0.06 and 0.33 ± 0.07 in dairy sheep. In meat sheep, the heritability of efficiency traits ranged from 0.09 ± 0.02 (prolificacy) up to 0.32 ± 0.14 (residual feed intake). For health traits, pooled heritability was 0.07 ± 0.01 (faecal egg count) and 0.21 ± 0.01 (somatic cell score) in dairy goats and 0.14 ± 0.04 (faecal egg count) and 0.13 ± 0.02 (somatic cell score) in dairy sheep. In meat sheep, the heritability of disease resistance and survival traits ranged between 0.07 ± 0.02 (mastitis) and 0.50 ± 0.10 (breech strike). Pooled estimates of genetic correlations between resilience and efficiency traits in dairy goats were not significantly different from zero with the exception of somatic cell score and fat content (−0.19 ± 0.01). In dairy sheep, only the unfavourable genetic correlation between somatic cell score and protein content (0.12 ± 0.03) was statistically significant. In meat sheep only, the correlations between growth and faecal egg count (−0.28 ± 0.11) as well as between growth and dagginess (−0.33 ± 0.13) were statistically significant and favourable. Results of this meta-analysis provide evidence of genetic antagonism between production and health in dairy sheep and goats. This was not observed in meat sheep where most of the pooled estimates had high standard errors and were non-significant. Based on the obtained results, it seems feasible to simultaneously improve efficiency and health in addition to production by including the different types of traits in the breeding goal. However, a better understanding of potential trade-offs between these traits would be beneficial. Particularly, more studies focused on reproduction and resilience traits linked to the animal's multi-trait response to challenges are required.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100456
Issue number3
Early online date18 Feb 2022
Publication statusPrint publication - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2022 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


  • Genetic correlation
  • Health
  • Heritability
  • Production
  • Small ruminants


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