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University of the Free State (2003)

Studies on the behavioural and genetic aspects of ewe rearing ability and lamb survival in South African sheep flocks

Cloete SWP

Titre : Studies on the behavioural and genetic aspects of ewe rearing ability and lamb survival in South African sheep flocks

Auteur : Cloete SWP

Université de soutenance : University of the Free State

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2003

Résumé partiel
The dissertation is based on a number of separate trials conducted since 1989. The central theme is ewe rearing ability and lamb survival, and the study includes 15 papers prepared over an 11-year period from 1992 to 2002. These papers are all linked by their emphasis on sheep production as influenced by lambing and neonatakbehaviour and its interface .with breeding and management. The papers demonstrate the various phases the study went through, and how it eventually transpired into an account of genetic change in lamb output achievable through rigorous selection. The individual papers already contain abstracts. This summary is intended to provide readers with a broad overview of the most important outcomes of the study. The study was organised in three parts, as follows : Part 1 : Background
Initially, two papers provided the background for the investigations into lamb survival and ewe rearing ability. The first paper dealt with the average reproductive performance of sheep in the Southern Cape, and with levels of reproductive wastage in a number of flocks. It demonstrated that approximately one in four breeding ewes did not care for at least one lamb at lamb marking. Losses were more or less evenly distributed between barrenness and rearing failure. It was impossible to identify managerial practices conclusively associated with a good reproductive performance. Evidence was provided that an improvement in the reproduction of the current flock can be achieved by a simple method of selection that can be practiced by commercial farmers with minimal record keeping. The second paper considered rearing ability in four experimental flocks of the Merino, SA Mutton Merino and Dormer breeds. A minority of ewes was shown to contribute markedly to the observed levels of rearing failure. Animals classified as being "good" or "poor" mothers on their lamb rearing history were shown to differ in one or more pelvic dimensions in two Merino flocks and the SA Mutton Merino flocks. Ewes classified as "good" had larger dimensions. Rearing ability was also demonstrated to be repeatable in the Tygerhoek Merino flock, where sufficient data were available > Part 2 : The dynamics of behaviour in lambing flocks
This part of the dissertation included four papers. The first paper detailed aspects of parturition and separation from one or more lamb in Dormer and SA Mutton Merino ewes. Length of parturition was found to be dependent on breed, with Dormer ewes having shorter parturitions than SA Mutton Merinos. They also were less likely to be assisted and Dormer lambs were less likely to die during or shortly after parturition. Across years, length of parturition was also repe�table in ewes. Early movement (within two hours) of ewes from the lambing site and high concentrations of lambed ewes in the same paddock were found to result in higher levels of separation from one or more lambs, resulting in lamb mortality The second paper detailed neonatal progress in lambs and related it to birth weight and lamb survival. Survival was affected by neonatal progress as well as by live weight gain from birth to 3 days in lambs. No breed differences were found for the interval from birth to standing or from standing to apparently suckling in Dormer and SA Mutton Merino lambs. It was, however, found that the traits were moderately heritable, using paternal halfsib methods on a relatively small data set The mechanisms of difficult births were subsequently investigated in Dormer and SA Mutton Merino ewes, since the two breeds were markedly different in this respect. The etiology of difficult births in the breeds was found to differ vastly. Dystocia and feto-pelvic disproportions commonly led to prolonged parturitions and assistance in SA Mutton Merinos. Uterine inertia were more likely to be observed in Dormers. The ability of factors associated with birth difficulties (pelvic dimensions, litter size and weight, ewe live weight and conformation) to predict length of parturition within breeds was, however, limited In the final paper of this part of the dissertation, it was possible to partition the genetic variances for behaviour traits observed during lambing in Dormer and SA Mutton Merino ewes. Maternal additive variance ratios for length of parturition were moderate and significant in both breeds. Neonatal progress (time intervals from birth to standing and from standing to apparently suckling) was lowly heritable in both breeds. The interval from standing to suckling was also influenced by the maternal permanent environmental variance in SA Mutton Merinos. Direct and maternal breeding values for behavioural traits differed significantly between lambs that survived and those that died in most cases. This result suggested a genetic association of lamb mortality with lambing and neonatal behavior Part 3 : Responses to selection for ewe multiple rearing ability
This part of the dissertation was based on observed responses in two Merino lines that were divergently selected for ewe multiple rearing ability since J986. The line selected in an upward direction for multiple rearing ability is referred to as the High (H) line. The line selected downwards is referred to as the Low (L) line. This part of the study consists of nine papers In the first paper, separation of ewes from one or more lambs was studied in the Merino lines referred to above. Ewes in the H line were more likely to be separated from one or more lambs because of interference, and they tended to be more interested in other parturient ewes. Ewes in the L line tended to be more likely to desert their lamb(s). Ewes that left their birth sites within two hours of birth were more likely to be separated from one or more offspring The ability of ewes and lambs from the H and L lines to recognize each other were investigated next. Ewes in the H line were able to find their lambs sooner after the lamb being tethered 20 m away, compared to their L line contemporaries.

Présentation (NRF)

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