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Development and validation of on-farm behavioural scoring systems to assess birth assistance and lamb vigour

  • S. M. Matheson (a1), J. A. Rooke (a1), K. McIlvaney (a1), M. Jack (a1), S. Ison (a1), L. Bünger (a1) and C. M. Dwyer (a1)...

Abstract

Lamb mortality remains a significant welfare and economic issue for sheep production. Lamb survival is to a degree dependent upon an easy delivery and the expression of appropriate behaviours from both mother and offspring, such as rapid standing, udder seeking and sucking by the lamb. Genetic solutions have the potential to improve birth assistance and lamb behaviour but large amounts of data are needed. Therefore, to achieve this objective, simple, proxy methods (scoring systems) were developed to quantify the level of birth difficulties and lamb vigour on farm. In the first study, detailed historical behavioural data from 1156 lambs (Scottish Blackface and Suffolk (S)) were analysed to develop criteria for 3 scores: birth assistance, lamb vigour and sucking assistance. The birth assistance score was developed by analysing the relationships between birth presentation and intervention levels, and intervention level and labour length. Lambs with abnormal birth positions required more assistance than normally presented lambs and lambs with long labours required more and greater assistance than those with short labours. Lamb vigour score was developed by analysing the latencies for the lamb to first perform specific behaviours; more vigorous lambs reach landmark behaviours faster than low vigour lambs. The sucking assistance score was developed from the relationship between the latency to suck successfully and assistance level, where lambs that were slow to suck required more assistance than lambs that were quick to suck. In the second study, the behaviour scoring systems (5-point categorical scales) were validated using a commercial flock of 80 twin-bearing crossbred ewes mated with either Texel (T) or S sires by simultaneously recording scores and the latency to perform specific landmark behaviours (i.e. to stand, seek the udder and suck). The vigour scores (recorded at 5 min of age) were compared with the latency from birth to standing and showed that lambs with lower (better) vigour scores were faster to stand after birth than those with higher scores. The sucking assistance scores were compared with the latency from birth to sucking, and showed that lambs with lower sucking assistance scores are quicker to suck than those with high scores. These results showed that the scoring systems could provide a practical and reliable assessment of birth assistance and lamb behaviour on farm and were sufficiently sensitive to discriminate vigour levels between lambs sired by either S or T rams.

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Keywords

Development and validation of on-farm behavioural scoring systems to assess birth assistance and lamb vigour

  • S. M. Matheson (a1), J. A. Rooke (a1), K. McIlvaney (a1), M. Jack (a1), S. Ison (a1), L. Bünger (a1) and C. M. Dwyer (a1)...

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