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Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Shearing ewes in the first third of gestation improves offspring performance

C. López-Mazz A E , F. Baldi B , G. Quintans C and G. Banchero D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Agronomy, UDELAR, Av. Garzón 780, 12900, Uruguay.

B School of Agricultural Sciences and Veterinary, Sao Pablo, 11884100 Brazil.

C National Institute for Agricultural Research, Ruta 8, km 281, Treinta y Tres, Uruguay 33000.

D National Institute for Agricultural Research, Ruta 50, km 11, Colonia, Uruguay 70006.

E Corresponding author. Email: tatolopezmazz@gmail.com

Animal Production Science - https://doi.org/10.1071/AN16461
Submitted: 15 July 2016  Accepted: 20 March 2017   Published online: 26 May 2017

Abstract

The effect of shearing ewes at 50 days of gestation on birth and weaning weight, vigour of the lambs in the first hour of life and the survival of single and twin lambs was investigated. Ultrasound pregnancy diagnosis was used to allocate 140 Polwarth ewes on Day 50 of gestation to one of four treatments, including two factors: shearing time (prepartum (PS) and postpartum (U)) and litter size (single (S) and twin (T)) resulting in the following treatments: single-bearing ewes shorn at 50 days of gestation (SPS, n = 39), single-bearing ewes unshorn (SU, n = 40), twin-bearing ewes shorn at 50 days of gestation (TPS, n = 28) and twin-bearing ewes unshorn (TU, n = 33). All ewes grazed together on improved pastures. Body condition score of the ewes was recorded once every 2 weeks from shearing until weaning, and plasma concentration of NEFA in ewes was measured once every 2 weeks from Day 30 postpartum until weaning (Day 104 ± 7). Gestation length, lamb behaviour during the first hour of life, lamb weight at birth and daily weight gain from birth to weaning and lamb survival were measured. Ewe body condition and plasma non-esterified fatty acids concentration was not affected by shearing time or litter size. Birthweight of the lambs was affected by shearing time (P = 0.0002), litter size (P < 0.0001) and sex of the lamb (P = 0.03). Lambs born to PS ewes had higher daily growth rate (P < 0.0001) than lambs born to U ewes (0.149 ± 0.07 vs 0.141 ± 0.07 kg, respectively). Birthweight affected the number of assisted lambs at birth (P = 0.01). Length of gestation was affected by shearing time (P < 0.0001). Sucking ability was improved by shearing time and litter size. Lambs born to PS ewes tried to suck (P = 0.01) and successfully sucked (P = 0.009) before lambs born to U ewes (23.3 ± 2 vs 28.7 ± 2 and 37.6 ± 1 vs 38.4 ± 1 min, respectively). Attempt and success to suck was affected by litter size (P = 0.004 and P = 0.05). TPS-born lambs tried to suck before (P = 0.004) and successfully sucked earlier (P = 0.0004) than TU lambs (26.1 ± 2.5 vs 33.7 ± 2 and 38 ± 1 vs 42.1 ± 2 min, respectively). Shearing time affected lamb survival at 20 days of age (P = 0.04). The improved survival in these lambs, expressed by a higher birthweight and vigour at birth, may be explained by better nutrition in utero in response to shearing during early pregnancy. In contrast to previous research on prepartum shearing, the present experiment shearing was done at 50 days of gestation. Early shearing in gestation might coincide with a period of high cell proliferation, intense vascular development and increased uterine and umbilical blood flows in the placenta which is in rapid development, and may result in improved outcomes when compared with shearing done on Day 70 or later of gestation.

Additional keywords: environmental stress, lamb growth, lamb survival.


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