The objective of this study was to explore the sensitivity of breeding values for growth rate and worm egg count (WEC, cube root transformed) to environmental worm burden, measured as the average WEC for each contemporary group (CGWEC). Growth rate and WEC were measured on 7,818 naturally infected Merino lambs in eight flocks across Australia, linked through common use of AI sires. Through bivariate analysis, genetic correlations of 0.55 ± 0.23 and 0.30 ± 0.16 were found for growth rate and WEC between low and high CGWEC, respectively. In a second analysis, breeding values for growth rate and WEC were regressed on CGWEC with a random regression model. The heritability for growth rate varied from 0.23 to 0.16 from low to high CGWEC, and the heritability for WEC varied from 0.25 to 0.36. Results suggest that breeding values for both growth rate and WEC are sensitive to environmental worm burden. Animals expressed less genetic variation for growth rate and more genetic variation for WEC in high CGWEC than in low CGWEC. This form of genotype-by-environment interaction should therefore be considered in genetic evaluation of both growth rate and WEC, to increase the efficiency of selection for animals that are more parasite resistant and more resilient to environmental worm challenge.
- Environmental mean
- Faecal egg count
- Gastrointestinal nematode infection