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.

There is ongoing debate about whether lambing as a yearling is in the long-term interest of the animal, with questions over wool quality and the size of subsequent litters.

The research has been something of a family affair, with Associate Professor Patrick Morel, his wife Jenny Wickham, her father Dr George Wickham and the couple's son, Jolin Morel, authoring a paper called Effects of birth rank and yearling lambing on long-term ewe reproductive performance presented at the New Zealand Animal Production Conference.

“There is a feeling that if a ewe gives birth as a yearling it may take them too long to recover, which affects them in the future,” Dr Morel says. “So there would be a trade-off with getting that extra litter at the younger age. Currently only 30 per cent of sheep farmers mate yearling ewes because of these concerns.”

Research carried out by Dr Morel’s colleague, Associate Professor Paul Kenyon, showed that two-year-old ewes that lambed as hoggets (yearlings) were less likely to have than those having their first lambs. Ewes reach at about six to eight months of age and give birth to between one and four lambs (usually twins) each year after a five-month gestation.

Dr Morel recorded the 250 litters born at his farm over the past decade. He found that while ewes that gave birth as hoggets (yearlings) did have smaller litters the next year, after four years they had produced more offspring overall.

Dr Morel is director of animal nutrition in the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health whose main area of research is animal growth and nutrition. He says he wanted to involve his family in a scientific study. “My father-in-law gave us 25 ewes to start our flock, my wife managed the flock, I did the number crunching, my father in-law made sure the science was correct from his point of view, and my son helped collecting all the data.”

Dr Wickham was an associate professor and and wool specialist at Massey for many years, so was ideally placed to contribute. “But we all have a Massey connection," Dr Morel says. "My wife has a degree from Massey in agricultural science and Jolin is currently studying chemical engineering.”

Explore further: Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

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 ...

Research Yields Sheep Breeding Improvements

Oct 20, 2009

( -- Artificial insemination (AI) techniques that work well with cattle and swine can be difficult or costly to perform in sheep, but help’s on the way, thanks to Agricultural Research Service ...

Climate change and the mystery of the shrinking sheep

Jul 02, 2009

( -- Milder winters are causing Scotland's wild breed of Soay sheep to get smaller, despite the evolutionary benefits of possessing a large body, according to new research due to be published in ...

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

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

13 hours ago

( —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Orchid named after UC Riverside researcher

Apr 17, 2014

One day about eight years ago, Katia Silvera, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside, and her father were on a field trip in a mountainous area in central Panama when they stumbled ...

In sex-reversed cave insects, females have the penises

Apr 17, 2014

Researchers reporting in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 17 have discovered little-known cave insects with rather novel sex lives. The Brazilian insects, which represent four distinct but re ...

Fear of the cuckoo mafia

Apr 17, 2014

If a restaurant owner fails to pay the protection money demanded of him, he can expect his premises to be trashed. Warnings like these are seldom required, however, as fear of the consequences is enough to ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Researchers successfully clone adult human stem cells

( —An international team of researchers, led by Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology, has announced that they have performed the first successful cloning of adult human skin cells into stem ...

Plants with dormant seeds give rise to more species

Seeds that sprout as soon as they're planted may be good news for a garden. But wild plants need to be more careful. In the wild, a plant whose seeds sprouted at the first warm spell or rainy day would risk disaster. More ...

Researchers develop new model of cellular movement

( —Cell movement plays an important role in a host of biological functions from embryonic development to repairing wounded tissue. It also enables cancer cells to break free from their sites of ...

Male monkey filmed caring for dying mate (w/ Video)

( —The incident was captured by Dr Bruna Bezerra and colleagues in the Atlantic Forest in the Northeast of Brazil.  Dr Bezerra is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol and a Professor ...

Impact glass stores biodata for millions of years

( —Bits of plant life encapsulated in molten glass by asteroid and comet impacts millions of years ago give geologists information about climate and life forms on the ancient Earth. Scientists ...