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The number of offspring weaned from ewe lambs is affected differently by liveweight and age at breeding

Thompson, A.N.ORCID: 0000-0001-7121-7459, Bowen, E., Keiller, J., Pegler, D., Kearney, G. and Rosales-Nieto, C.A. (2021) The number of offspring weaned from ewe lambs is affected differently by liveweight and age at breeding. Animals, 11 (9). Article 2733.

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In this paper, we tested the hypothesis that ewe lambs that are heavier and older at breeding will wean more offspring, due to increased reproductive rate and offspring survival and lower maternal mortality. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed data from more than 11,500 maternal composite ewe lambs collected over eight years. The ewe lambs had full pedigree records including birth type, age and liveweight at breeding plus records of the birthweight and survival of their offspring and the dam. The average liveweight and age at breeding was 40.2 kg and 228 days. The reproductive rate and weaning rate responses to liveweight at breeding were curvilinear (p < 0.001), and if ewe lambs achieved 45 kg by the start of breeding, their reproductive rate and weaning rate were within 5% of their maximum. By contrast, the effects of age at breeding on weaning rate was linear and increased by 0.4% per day, despite a quadratic (p < 0.01) effect of age at breeding on reproductive rate which increased only marginally when ewe lambs were older than 8 months at breeding. Increasing liveweight (p < 0.05) or age (p < 0.001) at breeding increased survival of their offspring, however an extra 10 kg of liveweight or 30 days of age at breeding increased offspring survival by less than 5%. Both liveweight (p < 0.001) and age (p < 0.01) at breeding also influenced survival of the ewe lamb dam but survival rates exceeded 95% across the range in liveweights from 30 to 55 kg and ages from 6 to 9 months. This understanding of the trade-off between age and liveweight at breeding will assist farmers to optimize the management of their ewe lambs, given the earlier they can be bred successfully the easier they can be integrated with the breeding of the adult ewe flock the following year.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Centre for Animal Production and Health
Publisher: MDPI
Copyright: © 2021 by the authors
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