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The wool production and reproduction of Merino ewes can be predicted from changes in liveweight during pregnancy and lactation

Ferguson, M.B., Thompson, A.N.ORCID: 0000-0001-7121-7459, Gordon, D.J., Hyder, M.W., Kearney, G.A., Oldham, C.M. and Paganoni, B.L. (2011) The wool production and reproduction of Merino ewes can be predicted from changes in liveweight during pregnancy and lactation. Animal Production Science, 51 (9). pp. 763-775.

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Defining the nature of the relationship between change in liveweight throughout a breeding cycle and ewe wool production and reproduction would be useful for developing management guidelines for Merino ewes. In this paper we tested the hypotheses that (1) feed on offer has variable effects on liveweight profiles of individual ewes; and (2) liveweight profiles of individual ewes can be used to predict their fleece wool production and reproductive performance. At sites in Victoria and Western Australia in 2001 and 2002, pregnant Merino ewes were exposed to 10 nutritional treatments. In each of the four experiments, ewes in average condition score 3 at artificial insemination were fed to achieve either maintenance or loss of a condition score over the first 100 days of pregnancy before grazing one of five levels of feed on offer between Day 100 and lamb weaning. Across all four experiments, the average difference in ewe liveweight between extreme treatments was: 7.0 kg (range 4.78.7 kg) at Day 100 of pregnancy; 11.9 kg (range 4.917.8 kg) at lambing; and by weaning was 13.9 kg (range 8.822.7 kg). Liveweight at joining and liveweight change during pregnancy and lactation of individual Merino ewes were significantly related to their clean fleece weight, fibre diameter and staple length and thus the second hypothesis was supported. Heavier ewes at joining produced more wool that was longer and broader and this effect was consistent across both sites and years. A 10-kg loss in ewe liveweight between joining and mid pregnancy, mid pregnancy and lambing or during lactation reduced clean fleece weight by 0.40.7 kg and fibre diameter by 0.51.4 um. At the Victorian site, where ewes were shorn in summer, a loss of 10 kg in liveweight between joining and Day 100 of pregnancy reduced staple strength by 5 N/ktex. As expected the influence of food on offer on changes in ewe liveweight was different between years and sites and between late pregnancy and lactation due to a complex group of pasture and animal factors. Therefore, managing changes in ewe liveweight itself rather than feed on offer will achieve more predictable outcomes. A higher liveweight at joining resulted in a predictable improvement in ewe reproductive rate and liveweight at joining was more important than the liveweight profile leading up to joining. This paper has shown that it is possible to predict the differences in wool production and reproductive rate of flocks of Merino ewes if ewe liveweight records at key times are known.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Copyright: © CSIRO 2011
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