The study was conducted to characterize the husbandry practices, phenotypic characteristics and determination of live body weight using morphometrical measurements of indigenous sheep types under smallholder management condition in highlands of Gurage zone, Southern Ethiopia. Two districts, Gumer and Ejha were selected purposely based on sheep population distribution, flock size and their contribution to the farmers. Questionnaire survey was used to collect data from 156 households of smallholder farmers who own sheep. Qualitative trait, live body weight and body measurement were taken from a total of 402 indigenous sheep. Live body weights were also associated and predicted using linear body measurements. The mean flock size owned per household was 5.20 and 4.40 sheep at Gumer and Ejha district, respectively. In both districts generating income was the main purpose of sheep rearing followed by saving, meat consumption and manure. Natural pasture and crop residue were found to be the major sources of feed during wet and dry seasons. The main constraints of sheep production were feed scarcity, disease prevalence, market price fluctuation and water shortage. The overall mean age at first lambing and lambing interval were (13.8± 0.4) and (8.3± 0.15) months, respectively, while mean litter size was 1.5head. The majority of sheep were characterized by patchy color pattern and the combinations of brown and / or black and /or white color type which is locally called it “Gerebet”. The overall mean live body weight of male and female sheep was 28.3 and 23.4 kg, respectively. Gumer sheep population had significantly higher linear body measurements (P<0.05) than Ejha district. Sex, age, and sex by age interaction exerted significant differences (p<0.05) on live body weight and linear body measurements. Body weight was significantly (P<0.01) correlated with all linear measurement traits considered in this study. Chest girth and body length were found to be the best predictor of live body weight. Phenotypic characterization indicated variations within the studied population in qualitative and quantitative traits. Hence, there is a great possibility for genetic improvement through selection of rams within the studied population. Thus, implementation of planned genetic improvement strategy through community based breeding program that considers the major constraints hampering sheep production need to be addressed.
Key words: Characterization, husbandry practice, body weight, qualitative and quantitative traits.
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