Simulation studies of nucleus breeding systems for sheep improvement
The genetic outcome of operating an open nucleus system (ONS) in a population of 1200 sheep divided into individual flocks, was investigatd using simulation techniques, and a comparison to alternative breeding systems was made. Selection was for best linear unbiased prediction of breeding value (EBV) for a trait measurable on individuals before selection. Migration of animals between flocks was based on the EBV. The results of stochastic simulations indicated that, compared to selection within closed flocks (CF), the annual genetic gain could be increased by 25 to 40 per cent if an ONS was operated. The variation in selection response, and the rate of inbreeding were also lower. Simulation results showed that approximately 25 per cent of nucleus sires should be selected from the base flocks. Initial genetic differences between flocks had a short term effect on genetic gain in the ONS. Screening the population to ensure that the nucleus flock was initially composed of the best ewes, also only had a short term effect. The advantage of an ONS over CF selection was effected by flock size but not intitial heritability. The use of dispersed nucleus system and a sire referencing scheme with selection of sires across flocks, was investigated. The outcome of these systems was very similar to the ONS. The higher rate of genetic gain achieved in the ONS, compared to CF selection, was attributed to higher genetic selection differentials and maintenance of genetic variation within flocks. These effects were included in a deterministic model of the ONS. The model described the simulated data well, although changes in genetic variance at the outset of the ONS were underestimated. Failure to account for finite population effects in previous studies has resulted in underestimation of the benefits of an open nucleus system in small populations.