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Increasing weight gain during pregnancy results in similar increases in lamb birthweights and weaning weights in Merino and non-Merino ewes regardless of sire type

Paganoni, B. L., Ferguson, M. B., Kearney, G. A., Thompson, A. N.
Animal production science 2014 v.54 no.6 pp. 727-735
Border Leicester, Merino, birth weight, conception, equations, ewes, flocks, guidelines, lambs, parturition, prediction, pregnancy, sires, weaning, weaning weight, weight gain
Birthweight is the single largest determinant of survival in lambs and can be predicted from ewe liveweight at conception and liveweight changes during pregnancy. These prediction equations are known for Merino ewes, but it is unknown if they are applicable to non-Merino breeds. We tested the hypothesis that increasing conception weights of ewes will increase the birthweights, survival to weaning and weaning weights of their lambs, irrespective of ewe or sire breed, but that non-Merino lamb birthweights would be less responsive than Merino lamb birthweights, to changes in ewe liveweights during pregnancy. Ewe liveweight, lamb birth and weaning weight records from Merino sires mated to Merino ewes (MM), Border Leicester Merino (Maternal) sires mated to Merino ewes, Poll Dorset or Suffolk (Terminal) sires mated to Merino ewes (TM), and Terminal sires mated to Border Leicester Merino ewes (TMAT) were analysed from the 2007 to 2011 lambings of eight information nucleus flocks. Lamb birthweights increased by 0.032 ± 0.0012kg from MM ewes and 0.024 ± 0.0026 kg from TMAT ewes with every 1-kg increase in conception weight (P < 0.001). Irrespective of breed, for every 1-kg increase in liveweight change during early and late pregnancy, lamb birthweights increased by 0.021 ± 0.0019 kg and 0.034 ± 0.0019 kg and weaning weights by 0.26 ± 0.013 kg and 0.09 ± 0.011 kg, respectively (P < 0.001). Survival to weaning of single, twin and triplet lambs was highest for lambs from TMAT ewes (89.3% ± 1.25, 84.6% ± 1.49 and 73.4% ± 2.35) and lowest for TM ewes (80.2% ± 1.89, 72.8% ± 2.09 and 57.4% ± 2.98; P < 0.001). Coefficients relating ewe liveweight change during pregnancy to lamb birthweights are similar for Merino and Maternal ewes, however conception weights of Maternal ewes are significantly heavier than Merino ewes when run together, and lamb birthweights from Maternal ewes are less responsive to ewe conception weights. The coefficients reported in this paper will enable development of optimum management guidelines for single-, twin- and triple-bearing Maternal ewes.