Benefits to heterosis in sheep and goats 

Producers looking to improve productivity in their flock or herd may want to examine the benefits of crossbreeding. Whether its crossbreeding complementary sheep breeds or goat breeds, utilizing crossbreeding within an operation enhances animal health, increases productivity and benefits the bottom line. 

Crossbreeding System 

Adding crossbreeding into an operation can be a fairly simple management practice. Producers looking to capitalize on the benefits of mating two different breeds reap numerous benefits. By combining two different breeds producers can improve the maternal or terminal characteristics in their flock or herd. For optimal results, the crossbreeding system needs to be well- researched and planned to ensure the specific type of offspring desired is produced.

One of the most notable benefits to crossbreeding is heterosis or hybrid vigor. Research indicates crossbred offspring have increased vitality compared to their parents. “Heterosis or hybrid vigor means increasing the biological quality of the hybrid offspring. The main economic heterosis goals are reproductive performance, longevity, growth and weaning weight,” Homero Salinas, Ph.D., small ruminant extension state specialist and assistant professor with Lincoln University’s College of Agriculture, Environmental and Human Sciences, said. 

Additionally, research shows crossbred lambs are typically more vigorous at birth, grow faster and possess a higher survivability rate compared to their purebred counterparts. Crossbred females generally mature faster and display better fertility than purebred females. Livestock specialists state crossbreeding makes the biggest difference in low heritability traits such as reproduction and survivability. Whereas it has less impact on high heritability traits such as carcass and growth. 

Complementary Breeds

Producers achieve the best results when crossing complementary breeds. According to Dr. Salinas producers wanting to add crossbreeding to their operation may want to consider mating a meat breed like Katahdin to a dairy sheep breed like East Friesian. The ewes produced from the cross would have higher milk production, the lambs would likely have increased weaning weights, and overall the offspring would maintain parasite resistance and have less wool production. 

The use of crossbreeding can be especially beneficial when the offspring will be marketed for meat. “Sheep crossbreeding for slaughter market of all terminal offspring is a good option,” Dr. Salinas explained. “For example, the mating of Polypay ewes to Suffolk Rams; with the reproductive efficiency and low costs of Polypay ewes and with the Suffolk-sired lambs heavily muscled to meet market requirements.”

An example of crossbreeding goat breeds is utilizing a Boer buck with Spanish ewes or dairy does such as a Nubian. The offspring will have the size of a Boer but the environmental resistance of the Spanish breed or the milk production of the Nubian breed. 

Crossbreeding History

The practice of crossbreeding is a longstanding practice in the livestock industry. “Many breeds originated with crosses of two or more different breeds like the Suffolk was a cross of Southdown and Norfolk Horn (England). And in goats, the Kiko Breed was a cross between feral (wild) goats and dairy bucks in New Zealand,” Dr. Salinas stated. Another example includes the TexMaster, a cross between Tennessee Meat Goats with Boer goats. 


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