Behaviour of Merinos divergently selected for multiple rearing ability in response to external stimuli
Data of Merino sheep descended from two divergent selection lines for (H line) and against (L line) multiple rearing ability were collected in three different trials to compare response to stressful situations between lines. Trial 1: the behaviour of 138, 20-month-old sheep born in 2001 and 124, 8-month-old sheep born in 2002 were observed in an arena test. Experimental animals amounted to 111 and 101 for the H line in the respective years. Corresponding numbers for the L line were 27 and 23, respectively. Progeny born in 2001 were accustomed to handling, as the tests were performed shortly after routine performance recording. Lambs born in 2002 were unaccustomed to handling when tested. Progeny from the H line born in 2002 allowed a smaller (P < 0.01) minimum distance between them and the human operator seated between them and a group of similar aged sheep than L line contemporaries. Progeny born in the L line during 2002 defecated more (P < 0.05) frequently than H line contemporaries. No line differences were found in progeny born during 2001. Trials 2 and 3 were designed to test whether the putative line difference in stress response would impact on physical meat quality. Trial 2: a total of 103, 18-20-month-old progeny from the two selection lines were slaughtered during 2001, 2002-2003. Mean slaughter weight, dressing percentage and carcass weight of H line animals were between 5 and 13% higher (P < 0.05) than that of L line animals. There were no differences in cooking loss, drip loss and tenderness between the two lines. As pertaining to the meat colour, L line progeny had less vivid red meat, as seen by their lower (P < 0.05) a* colour reading and chroma values. The L line animals had lower (P < 0.01) initial pH values as measured in the Musculus longissimus dorsi. These results are indicative of susceptibility to acute, short-term stress. Trial 3: 20 progeny of the two selection lines were slaughtered and their muscle pH measured at 11 intervals from 45 min to 48 h post slaughter. As in Trial 1, the initial pH of the L line animals were lower (P < 0.05) than that of H line animals. An opposite tendency was observed by 48 h post slaughter. The obtained results support a hypothesis that divergent selection for ewe multiple ability resulted in adaptations to cope with unfamiliar conditions. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.