The ewe can mitigate adverse experiences in her lambs

May 12, 2011

Lambs are likely to encounter a number of adverse events, starting from the fetal stage. In rodents and humans, it was shown that the mother can mitigate the effects of adverse experiences in her young.

Sophie Hild’s doctoral research shows that in sheep, the dam can also to some extent alleviate the effects of adverse events on the behaviour and physiology of her lambs.

The mother-young relationship in sheep is of utmost importance for the development of the young and their survival and well-being. Despite substantial knowledge on the mother-young relationship in sheep and how it is related to the survival of the lambs, there are important gaps in the scientific literature about how this relationship may affect or may be affected by young that experience adverse events.

Indeed, there is no certain evidence as to whether the ewe is able to reduce the effects of adverse experiences on her offspring and, if this is the case, what type of behaviour or physiological adaptations could be involved in this mitigating process. In other species, the mother is sometimes able to reduce the impact of adverse events experienced by her progeny.

The goal of this thesis was therefore to investigate further whether the ewe is capable of mitigating the effects of adverse events in her offspring. In a first experiment, close proximity between the ewe and lamb and synchronised lying-down were found to be linked to a lower sensitivity to noxious thermal stimulation in the lamb.

In a second experiment, results showed that the ewe could recognise a change in behavior in her lamb when it experienced pain, but not when it was exposed to immune stress or social isolation stress. The third experiment addressed the issue of prenatal stress and showed that prenatally stressed ewes gave their progeny more grooming at birth. At one month of age, their lambs showed increased passive fear responses to the presence of a human.

Overall, these results suggest that the ewe plays an important role in decreasing discomfort in the lamb and in adapting her progeny to face adverse events. Practical applications resulting from this research could involve keeping the lamb close to the dam when carrying out stressful or painful procedures such as ear-tagging or castration, as this may lower the lambs’ pain sensitivity. Minimising stress for the ewe during pregnancy to avoid increased fearfulness in lambs, which clearly represents a management problem, is also recommended, based on the findings in Hild’s research.

Master in Cognition and Developement Sophie Hild defended her doctoral thesis for a PhD on 5th of May 2011 at The Norwegian School of Veterinary Science. The thesis is entitled: “Mother-young relationship in sheep and ’ responses to .”

Explore further: Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Sheep study finds young mothers have more lambs

Jul 13, 2010

( -- New research suggests that being a young mother is not a bad thing for a sheep and may mean ewes have more lambs that are just as healthy than those that are older when first bred.

Lambs provide crucial link in understanding obesity

Mar 14, 2011

The research, published today in The Journal of Physiology, shows a definite link between maternal and offspring obesity and is the first demonstration that this is the case in mammals which bear 'mature offspring' – ...

Transmitting prion diseases in milk

Apr 08, 2008

Scrapie can be transmitted to lambs through milk, according to new research published in the online open access journal BMC Veterinary Research. The study provides important information on the transmission of this prion-associated ...

Wanted: A sheep in sheep's clothing

Jun 06, 2006

Australian scientists say they are looking for the ugliest merino lambs they can find in a study that may challenge the dominance of synthetic fibers.

Recommended for you

Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

11 hours ago

Humans aren't alone in their ability to match a voice to a face—animals such as dogs, horses, crows and monkeys are able to recognize familiar individuals this way too, a growing body of research shows.

Love-shy panda artificially inseminated

21 hours ago

Britain's only female giant panda, Tian Tian, has been artificially inseminated after failing to mate with her male partner Yang Guang, Edinburgh Zoo said Tuesday.

User comments : 0

More news stories

ESO image: A study in scarlet

This new image from ESO's La Silla Observatory in Chile reveals a cloud of hydrogen called Gum 41. In the middle of this little-known nebula, brilliant hot young stars are giving off energetic radiation that ...

First direct observations of excitons in motion achieved

A quasiparticle called an exciton—responsible for the transfer of energy within devices such as solar cells, LEDs, and semiconductor circuits—has been understood theoretically for decades. But exciton movement within ...

Patent talk: Google sharpens contact lens vision

( —A report from Patent Bolt brings us one step closer to what Google may have in mind in developing smart contact lenses. According to the discussion Google is interested in the concept of contact ...

Warm US West, cold East: A 4,000-year pattern

Last winter's curvy jet stream pattern brought mild temperatures to western North America and harsh cold to the East. A University of Utah-led study shows that pattern became more pronounced 4,000 years ago, ...