Genetic improvement of hill sheep – Impacts on profitability and greenhouse gas emissions

NR Lambe, E Wall, CI Ludemann, L Bunger, JE Conington

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Scottish Blackface hill sheep from two research flocks, based in environments of differing climatic severity, were selected for 8 years based on a selection index incorporating ewe and lamb traits, designed to improve flock sustainability and profitability. Compared to a control line of sheep kept at average performance, after 8 years of selection, sheep selected on this index have shown increased overall profitability, largely due to an increase in the weight of lambs at weaning (2–2.5 kg, depending on farm). A model was used to estimate greenhouse gas (GHG) emission changes in hill sheep systems when performance traits were altered, to investigate the potential to use genetic selection as a tool to reduce GHG. Results from this model suggested that the actual genetic changes observed in the hill flocks are likely to have increased GHG emissions, both at the level of the breeding ewe and per kg of lamb produced, mainly as a result of an increase in ewe mature size (2.8–3 kg difference vs. the control line after 8 years of selection). Any future selection index designed to minimise GHG emissions, would need to incur heavier penalties for increasing ewe mature weight, compared to the current economic index, which would be likely to reduce selection response in lamb growth. These changes are only likely to occur if payment or subsidy systems were to change in a way that would reward producers for reducing GHG emissions. © 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27 - 34
Number of pages8
JournalSmall Ruminant Research
Issue number1
Publication statusFirst published - 2014

Bibliographical note

1023393; Cited By :3

Export Date: 31 March 2019


Correspondence Address: Lambe, N.R.; SRUC Kirkton farm, Crianlarich, West Perthshire, FK20 8RU, United Kingdom; email: [email protected]

Funding details: Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, CSA6357/ LS3519

Funding details: Scottish Government

Funding text 1: The financial support of the Scottish Government is gratefully acknowledged. Funding for the previous phases of the Hill sheep breeding project was gratefully received from Defra (Projet code CSA6357/ LS3519), the Scottish Executive, the Meat and Livestock Commission and the British Wool Marketing Board. Funding for the study that produced the GHG model (“The potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for sheep and cattle in the UK using genetic selection”) was gratefully received from Defra. The authors would like to acknowledge the input to aspects of this work from SRUC's technical staff and colleagues in SRUCs Consultancy and Research Divisions. Appendix A


  • Genetic selection
  • Greenhouse gas
  • Sheep
  • Ovis aries


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