In a 2 × 2 × 2 × 2 factorial experiment, the effects on reproductive performance of active immunization against androstenedione and of two sward heights in two periods, August to October (period 1) and October to November (period 2), were investigated in 144 Beulah Speckled-face and 146 Brecknock Cheviot ewes. Sward heights of either 5 to 6 cm (2200 kg dry matter (DM) per ha) (high) or 2 to 3 cm (650 kg DM per ha) (low) were achieved by adjustment of stocking rate during period 1. Two groups of ewes were balanced for body condition score across breed and sward height and the ewes of one group were actively immunized against androstenedione by injection with Fecundin® at 8 and 5 weeks before mating at the second synchronized oestrus after progestagen pessary withdrawal. Ewes were reallocated to the high (at 15 ewes per ha) and low (at 20 ewes per ha) swards at the start of period 2 by breed and immunization treatment, balanced for live weight, body condition score and sward height in period 1. After mating in mid November, all ewes were run at 19 ewes per ha on the residual pasture of the high sward until slaughtered either at return to service or at 4 weeks after first mating when corpora lutea and embryos were counted.
There were no effects or interactions due to sward height in period 1 on the reproductive responses to sward height in period 2. Ovulation and potential lambing rates were greater in the Beulah breed than in the Cheviot, and on the high sward than on the low in period 2. Ovulation rates were higher in immunized ewes than in control ewes but the effects of immunization and sward height on potential lambing rate were not independent. Potential lambing rates were higher in immunized ewes than in control ewes at the low sward height but not at the high sward height.
Adjustment of stocking rate during period 1 served to increase the range in ewe body condition at the start of period 2 in mid October. Reproductive response to body condition at this time differed between the breeds, the relationship being strongly positive in the more prolific Beulah control ewes but less so in the less prolific Cheviot control ewes. The response to immunization in both breeds was relatively greater at lower levels of body condition, thereby reducing the effect of body condition in immunized ewes.
The use of Fecundin® is therefore unlikely to produce much advantage when pre-mating nutrition or body condition are high but there may be some advantage in using it when nutritional resources are limited in the autumn, particularly in ewes in poorer body condition.