The effects of four generations of inbreeding, to achieve inbreeding coefficients (F) of 0·25, 0·375, 0·50 and 0·59, on conception rate, prolificacy, litter weight at birth and survival of breeding females, have been studied in sheep. Crosses of inbred lines were also examined. Three breeds, Scottish Blackface, Cheviot and Welsh Mountain, and the crosses among these breeds, were involved. Analyses were carried out both for the data overall and within inbred lines.
Conception rate at the first oestrus at which the ewe was mated (in each year) declined almost linearly from 0·71 (F2 generation - inbreeding F = 0·0) to 0·44 (F = 0·59) with line crosses showing 0·78 conception rate. The corresponding results following up to three rounds of services at successive oestrous periods were 0·91, 0·74 and 0·97 respectively. Analyses within lines showed a steeper rate of decline in conception rate to 0·33 (F = 0·59) following first services and 0·63 following up to three successive periods. This indicates that the lines with the best conception rates survived the inbreeding process better.
Prolificacy, the number of lambs born per ewe lambing, dropped from 1·73 (F = 0·0) to 1·37 (F = 0·25) and thereafter more slowly to 1·24 (F = 0·59). Line crosses were no better than the initial non-inbred generation (F2 and the purebred equivalent O2). Within-line analysis gave the same results.
The effects of inbreeding on litter weight at birth mirror closely those for prolificacy.
Ewe survival declined linearly with inbreeding. There was a 1·2-fold increase in the risk of death for every increase in the inbreeding coefficient (F) of 0·1 (analysed by using a proportional hazard model).
In general, there were no significant differences between purebred and crossbred sheep in the effects of inbreeding. For conception rate, prolificacy and litter weight (for which the point was examined) the changes with inbreeding could not be explained, statistically, in terms of dominance alone, suggesting, therefore, that epistasis is also involved.