Seventy-nine Finnish Landrace x Dorset Horn ewes in lamb to Suffolk rams were used in a comparative slaughter experiment to assess the effects of numbers of foetuses on the growth of the products of conception. The mean number of foetuses was 2·7, with a range from 1 to 5. The ewes were individually penned and given a standard diet with metabolizable energy concentration 7·7 MJ/kg and N concentration 21 g/kg, rationed at 2 kg/day during the first month and 1·25 kg/day during the second and third. Allowances beyond that time were on two scales and depended on the number of foetuses being carried as diagnosed by radiography. The ewes were slaughtered between 50 and 145 days of gestation. The gravid uterus was dissected into foetal, placental, foetal fluid and empty uterus components. Equations were fitted to the weights of each component to describe the effects of stage of gestation, litter size and ewe weight. For the mean weight per foetus (Y, kg) the preferred equation is
In (Y)= 2·419–17·574e-0.01976t–00079ft+0–0046w,
where tis the time in days from conception, / is the number of foetuses and wis the weight (kg) of the ewe at mating. This is a version of the Gompertz equation, with additional terms to express the effects of / and w.The weights of the placenta and of the empty uterus were similarly fitted by versions of the Gompertz equation but the mean weight of fluids per foetus (Z, kg) or, rather, its natural logarithm was best described by a third degree polynomial, which is
In(Z) = –11·518 + 0–326t;–0·00316t2+0·0000102t3.
None of the weights was significantly affected by the level of feeding in late pregnancy.
Estimates of mean weights from the equations and of daily rates of gain in weight from the first differentials of the equations are tabulated against stage of gestation and litter size, and the forms of the weight, growth rate and specific growth-rate curves are illustrated graphically.
The equation for foetal weight estimates that at the end of pregnancy the mean weight per foetus is reduced by a factor of 0–89 for each additional foetus being carried. The mathematical model implies that the differences originate in early pregnancy, when the factor is very close to unity, and that the mean weights gradually diverge. In the absence of direct evidence this would appear to be the simplest hypothesis, rather than the assumption in most of the earlier literature that the effect is entirely confined to the last 4 or 5 weeks of gestation.
Just before parturition the total daily weight gain of quadruplet foetuses was about 250 g and was associated with a similar gain in weight of foetal fluids, the ratio of fluid weight to foetal weight appearing to increase with litter size. The ewes were clearly under considerable physical stress. It is suggested that this aspect must be closely considered when greater prolificacy is sought.