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Mob size of single-bearing or twin-bearing Merino ewes at lambing may not influence lamb survival when feed-on-offer is high

  • A. Lockwood (a1), S. Hancock (a1), B. Paganoni (a2), C. Macleay (a2), G. Kearney (a3), R. Sohi (a4) and A. Thompson (a1)...

Abstract

Limited research has suggested that higher lambing densities increase interference from foreign ewes at lambing which disrupts the ewe-lamb bond and compromises lamb survival. This may be particularly evident in mobs of twin-bearing ewes compared to single-bearing ewes because a greater number of lambs are born per day. Therefore, we hypothesised that; (i) decreasing the mob size of ewes at lambing has a greater impact on the survival of twin-born lambs than single-born lambs; (ii) the relationship between mob size and lamb survival can be explained by differences in the rate of interaction with foreign ewes and lambs at lambing; and (iii) ewes will utilise a limited area of the paddock at lambing and thus lambing density will be defined by the distribution of ewes in the paddock rather than the paddock area. Merino ewes were allocated into a 2×2 factorial combination of ewe pregnancy status (single- or twin-bearing) and mob size (high (n=130 ewes) or low (n=50 ewes)) on day 140 from the start of joining. Each treatment had two replicates excepting the low mob size for twins which had a third replicate. Ewes lambed at a stocking rate of 11 ewes/ha. Feed-on-offer during lambing exceeded 2400 kg dry matter (DM)/ha. Ewe-lamb behaviour was observed and dead lambs were autopsied over 11 days during the peak of lambing. The distribution of ewes in each paddock was recorded every 2 h during daylight hours by counting the number of ewes occupying 2500 m2 grids. The proportion of ewes and their newborn progeny which interacted with foreign ewes at lambing did not differ between the high and low mob sizes for single- (24.9% v. 20.8%) or twin-bearing ewes (14.3% v. 19.6%; P=0.74). Similarly, interaction with foreign lambs did not differ between the high and low mob sizes for single- (14.5% v. 25.2%) and twin-bearing ewes (34.5% v. 26.4%; P=0.44). The distribution of ewes within the paddock did not differ between treatments (P=0.95). On average, single-bearing ewes which lambed at the high and low mob sizes occupied 34% and 36% of the paddock during daylight hours, and the corresponding values for twin-bearing ewes were 40% and 43%. Survival of twin-born lambs was lower than single-born lambs (75.3% v. 87.9%; P<0.01), however, lamb survival was not influenced by mob size regardless of birth type. These results suggest that higher mob sizes may not compromise lamb survival when feed-on-offer during lambing exceeds 2400 kg DM/ha.

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Keywords

Mob size of single-bearing or twin-bearing Merino ewes at lambing may not influence lamb survival when feed-on-offer is high

  • A. Lockwood (a1), S. Hancock (a1), B. Paganoni (a2), C. Macleay (a2), G. Kearney (a3), R. Sohi (a4) and A. Thompson (a1)...

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