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The effect of fish oil supplementation of pregnant and lactating ewes on milk production and lamb performance

  • J. L. Capper (a1) (a2), R. G. Wilkinson (a1), A. M. Mackenzie (a1) and L. A. Sinclair (a1)

Abstract

Supplementation of pregnant ewes with long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) demonstrably improves indicators of neonatal lamb vigour, potentially improving the number of lambs reared per ewe. The present study investigated the effect of supplementing ewes with fish oil and vitamin E (α-tocopherol acetate) throughout both pregnancy and lactation on the performance of lactating ewes and sucking lambs. Forty-eight ewes were supplemented with one of four concentrates containing either Megalac or fish oil plus a basal (50 mg/kg) or supranutritional (500 mg/kg) concentration of vitamin E from 6 weeks pre-partum until 4 weeks post partum in a two-by-two factorial randomised-block design. All concentrates were formulated to contain approximately 60 g/kg supplemental fatty acids. Ewes were housed, penned on sawdust and offered straw ad libitum. Blood samples were taken from ewes and lambs at intervals throughout the experiment and milk samples were obtained at 21 days into lactation. There was no notable effect of dietary vitamin E concentration upon ewe or lamb performance. Ewe dry-matter (DM) intake and yield were unaffected by dietary treatment, although ewes fed fish oil lost less weight during lactation (−1.88 kg compared with −3.97 kg for Megalac-supplemented ewes; P < 0.01). Milk fat concentrations (67.3 g/kg compared with 91.8 g/kg; P < 0.01) and yields (6.65 g/h v. 9.26 g/h; P < 0.01) were reduced in ewes fed fish oil and these decreases were associated with lower litter-growth rates (0.49 g/day compared with 0.54 g/day; P < 0.05). Milk protein yield was increased by fish oil supplementation (3.82 g/h) compared with Megalac supplementation (3.28 g/h; P < 0.05); moreover, there was an interaction between fat source and vitamin E concentration in that both protein concentration and yield were significantly lower in milk from ewes fed treatment with Megalac + basal vitamin E (MB) compared with the other three treatments. Fish oil supplementation increased the concentrations of C18:1trans-, cis-9, trans-11 conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), C20:5 (n-3) and C22:6 (n-3) within ewe plasma, milk and lamb plasma. The mechanisms by which fish oil supplementation affects milk composition warrants further investigation.

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References

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Keywords

The effect of fish oil supplementation of pregnant and lactating ewes on milk production and lamb performance

  • J. L. Capper (a1) (a2), R. G. Wilkinson (a1), A. M. Mackenzie (a1) and L. A. Sinclair (a1)

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