During the course of three breeding seasons, daily observations of oestrus were undertaken on the following groups of ewes, all of which were running with ochred rams. One hundred and twenty ewes (pure bred and first-cross) of different breeds and ages, running with vasectomized rams under natural conditions. Twenty-eight grade Suffolk ewes fed on a submaintenance diet. Eighteen grade Suffolk ewes running with a fertile ram. Twenty ewes of several breeds exposed to artificial light.
The effects of heredity (breed and individual), environment (season, year and nutrition), age and artificial light on the breeding season and related phenomena have been investigated. The results and conclusions were as follows:
1. (a) There are breed differences in the extent of the breeding season, cycle length, incidence of silent heat and duration of heat (Table 29). (b) The duration of the breeding season is related to the geographical origin (latitude and altitude) of the breed, (c) The duration of the breeding season of the first-cross is intermediate between that of the two parents, (d) Individual differences in the number of oestrous cycles per ewe per season were more marked in the mountain breeds.
2. (a) Of the ewe lambs, 79% exhibited oestrus during the shortest days only of the first breeding season. Their breeding season is not spread evenly about the shortest day as it is with adults. (b) The occurrence and length of the breeding season in ewe lambs is associated with early birth dates or with higher growth rates.
3. (a) Significant differences exist between breeds in the age at first oestrus. (b) Ewe lambs born early in the season showed their first oestrus at later age and heavier weight than those born late.
4. Annual differences in the duration of the breeding season, cycle length, incidence of silent heat and occurrence of first oestrus were negligible.
5. (a) Submaintenance diet had no effect on the onset of the breeding season, but it converted oestrus into silent heat. Conception occurred less frequently after periods of underfeeding. (b) At high latitudes nutrition has only a minor effect on the breeding season of the ewe.
6. (a) A constant high ratio of artificial darkness (8 hr. light: 16 hr. darkness) hastened the onset of the breeding season some 57 and 27 days in the two experimental groups. (b) A constant high ratio of artificial light (16 hr. light: 8 hr. darkness) hastened the end of the breeding season some 104 days on an average (in one experimental group), (c) There were breed differences in the latency of initiation and of cessation of the induced breeding season, (d) In the induced breeding season cycles of ovulation preceded the first oestrus, (e) Two thresholds of pituitary activity are suggested, one for the onset of ovulation, and the other for the manifestation of oestrus.
7. (a) A high frequency of cycles outside the normal range (14–19 days) was observed in the mountain breeds and in ewe lambs. (b) The shortest average cycle length coincided with the shortest days of the year.
8. A high frequency of silent heats (during the breeding season) was observed in the mountain breeds, in ewe lambs and during the second half of the breeding season.
9. Oestrus was of longer duration in adults and yearlings than in ewe lambs.
10. (a) Post-partum heat occurred in 56% of Suffolk ewes with an average lactation anoestrus of 35 days. (b) There is a relationship between the early onset of the breeding season and the incidence of post-partum heat, (c) Conception post-partum is partly inhibited by lactation.
11. Mating behaviour was observed in animals of several breeds and ages (three patterns were recorded for ewes and eight patterns for rams).
12. Irregular columnar cells in the vaginal smear of the ewe characterized late pregnancy.
In addition, the breeding season of wild and domestic sheep was reviewed in relation to the environment with special reference to the length of daylight.