One hundred and sixty-four Scottish Blackface ewes from two different farm sources were brought into a uniform moderately-poor level of body condition by early November. Five groups of approximately 33 ewes were then fed different amounts of pelleted dried grass and hay on pasture to achieve either high (H) or live-weight maintenance (M) levels of intake for different durations and at different times in the 36 days prior to mating at a synchronized oestrus. One group of ewes was fed the M level throughout, two groups were fed the H level for 18 days either preceded or followed by 18 days of the M level and two groups were fed the H level for 27 days either preceded or followed by 9 days of the M level. After mating, all ewes were fed the M level until slaughtered on return to service or at 28 (± 8) days after mating for counts of corpora lutea and viable embryos relating to first mating.
The gain in body condition and live weight after 18 days of H feeding was about half that achieved after 27 days. Time of H feeding had no differential effect on gain in condition or live weight. H feeding increased ovulation rate only if fed immediately prior to mating. When a period of M feeding preceded mating, most of the advantage was lost, particularly with 18 days of M feeding after 18 days of H feeding. Embryo mortality measured as ova loss was not significantly affected by either the duration or time of H feeding, although there was a trend for loss to decrease with increasing duration. Potential lambing rate to first mating was therefore significantly increased by H feeding for 27 days even when followed by 9 days of M feeding prior to mating but was not significantly increased by H feeding for only 18 days even when fed immediately prior to mating.
Differences in response were obtained from the ewes from the two sources. H feeding only produced a significant improvement in reproductive performance when potential was high and this was partly related to greater size. In populations with low potential, the provision of H feeding in the pre-mating period is therefore of doubtful economic advantage.