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Crossbred ewes gain more weight and are fatter than Merino ewes when managed together but similar coefficients predict lamb birthweight and survival

Hocking Edwards, J. E., Winslow, E., Behrendt, R., Gordon, D. J., Kearney, G. A., Thompson, A. N.
Animal production science 2019 v.59 no.4 pp. 767-777
Border Leicester, Merino, birth weight, conception, crossbreds, ewes, guidelines, lambing, lambs, pregnancy, production technology, rams, transposition (genetics), weaning, weaning weight
Current Australian ewe management guidelines are based on research from Merino ewes and have been transposed to crossbred ewes. It is unknown whether guidelines developed for Merino ewes are applicable to crossbred ewe production systems. To investigate this, the effect of ewe liveweight and condition score profile during pregnancy on lamb birthweight and survival for Border Leicester × Merino (BLM) crossbreds was compared with Merino ewes. Condition score profiles of 720 Merino and 680 BLM ewes were managed from 50 days after ram introduction to achieve one of four target condition scores at lambing. There were three replicates of the four target condition score treatments and both breeds of ewes were in each plot. By Day 140 after rams in, the BLM ewes were fatter (P < 0.001) and heavier (P < 0.001) than the Merino ewes, despite being managed in the same plots. Liveweight at conception and change in liveweight in late pregnancy of the Merino and BLM ewes had a similar effect on the birthweight and weaning weight of their lambs. However, birthweight and weaning weight of lambs from BLM ewes was less sensitive to ewe liveweight change in early pregnancy. Birthweight survival curves were similar in lambs from Merino and multiple-born lambs from BLM ewes, and the survival of lambs from multiple-bearing BLM ewes responded to manipulation of condition score in a similar pattern to lambs from Merino ewes. Therefore, managing liveweight or condition score of multiple-bearing BLM ewes is likely to improve lamb survival in a similar fashion to lambs from Merino ewes, although the absolute response in survival will be smaller than that achieved in Merino ewes at the same condition score. In addition, it is important to manage liveweight of both single and multiple-bearing BLM ewes during pregnancy to optimise weaning weight of their lambs, as those lambs born to BLM ewes of low liveweight were significantly lighter at weaning.