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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Shearing ewes at mid-pregnancy is associated with changes in fetal growth and development

D. K. Revell, S. T. Morris, Y. H. Cottam, J. E. Hanna, D. G. Thomas, S. Brown and S. N. McCutcheon

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 53(6) 697 - 705
Published: 05 June 2002

Abstract

This study investigated the effect of mid-pregnancy shearing (at Day 70 of pregnancy, P70) on herbage intake of grazing single- and twin-bearing ewes, lamb birth weight, and cold resistance of new-born lambs. At pregnancy diagnosis on P50, 30 single-bearing and 30 twin-bearing ewes were allocated either to be shorn at P70 (n = 15 for each pregnancy rank) or to remain unshorn to serve as controls (n = 15 for each pregnancy rank). All ewes were mated over a 3-day period with synchronisation of their oestrus. Herbage intake was measured indirectly from in vitro pasture digestibility and faecal output of grazing ewes, with the use of intra-ruminal chromium slow-release capsules, over six 5-day periods from P64 to P105. The weights of placental and fetal tissues were assessed in a subgroup of 16 ewes at P140 and P141. In the remaining sheep, lamb liveweight at birth and during lactation until weaning at 103 days of age was measured, and cold-resistance of new-born lambs was assessed by measuring summit metabolic rate (SMR) by indirect calorimetry. Ewe liveweight (corrected for fleece weight), condition score, and herbage intake during pregnancy were not affected by shearing treatment. Mid-pregnancy shearing did not affect placental weight, but increased the relative weights (i.e. g/kg liveweight) of fetal thyroid gland and lungs and reduced the relative weight of adrenal glands and heart. The ratio of secondary to primary wool follicles in near-term fetal skin was about 10% higher in offspring of shorn than of unshorn ewes. The metabolic rate of fetal hepatic tissue was increased by mid-pregnancy shearing, particularly in twin fetuses, possibly indicative of an increase in placental transport of nutrients to the fetuses. This conclusion is supported by the greater birth weight (average response 0.5 kg) of lambs born to ewes shorn at mid-pregnancy. Mid-pregnancy shearing also increased the SMR of new-born twin lambs by 16%, but decreased the SMR of singleton lambs by 26%. These results indicate that mid-pregnancy shearing can increase lamb birth weight without increasing ewe herbage intake or placental weight. An increase in the efficiency of nutrient uptake by the placenta is implied, and possible effects on the activity of thermogenic tissues are discussed.

Keywords: mid-pregnancy shearing, herbage intake, placenta, wool follicles, cold exposure.

https://doi.org/10.1071/AR01140

© CSIRO 2002


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