In order to assess the extent of genotype by environment interactions (G×E) and environmental sensitivity in sheep farm systems, environmental factors must be identified and quantified, after which the relationship with the traits(s) of interest can be investigated. The objectives of this study were to develop a farm environment (FE) scale, using a canonical correlation analysis, which could then be used in linear reaction norm models. Fine-scale farm survey data, collected from a sample of 39 Texel flocks across the United Kingdom, was combined with information available at the national level. The farm survey data included information on flock size and concentrate feed use. National data included flock performance averages for 21-week-old weight (21WT), ultrasound back-fat (UFD) and muscle (UMD) depths, as well as regional climatic data. The FE scale developed was then combined with 181 555 (21WT), 175 399 (UMD) and 175 279 (UFD) records from lambs born between 1990 and 2011, on 494 different Texel flocks, to predict reaction norms for sires used within the population. A range of sire sensitivities estimated across the FE scale confirmed the presence of genetic variability as both ‘plastic’ and ‘robust’ genotypes were observed. Variations in heritability estimates were also observed indicating that the rate genetic progress was dependent on the environment. Overall, the techniques and approaches used in this study have proven to be useful in defining sheep FEs. The results observed for 21WT, UMD and UFD, using the reaction norm models, indicate that in order to improve genetic gain and flock efficiency, future genetic evaluations would benefit by accounting for the G×E observed.
- Environmental sensitivity
- Genotype x environment interactions
- Reaction norms