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Neonatal survival: contributions from behavioural studies in sheep

By R. Nowak

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Newborn lambs need milk and immunological protection shortly after birth, and early interactions between the mother and the young are critical for this. Merino ewes in extensive conditions in Australia have the reputation of being a poor mothers. Attempts to improve the reproductive performance of these sheep need to overcome this handicap. Observations at lambing highlight the importance of the birth site as the location where the bonding process takes place. Mother-young bonding and lamb survival are maximised by management practices that increase the time spent at the birth site by the ewe after parturition and ensure that the appropriate interactions occur between the ewe and her lamb(s) on the birth site. Optimum feeding strategies during the various stages of pregnancy and at lambing not only improve the birth weight of the lamb and the condition of the ewe at lambing, they also influence the quality of maternal behaviour. Bonding, and consequently survival, of twins can be considerably improved if mothers remain on the birth site for a minimum of 6 h. Good nutrition during late pregnancy also increases the production of colostrum by the ewe. Maternal behaviour also depends on the emotivity of the animal. Although emotivity and its selection in sheep have not been part of practical animal management on a wide scale, there is increasing evidence to implicate emotivity with production characteristics. Behavioural interactions that take place between the lamb and the ewe in the very first hours following birth are important for bonding. Two major factors contribute to the formation of this early bonding: postnatal vocal communication and sucking. In Merinos, twin lambs that survive beyond the first week of life are those that have established most rapidly a bond with their dam in the first 12 h after birth. Under extensive conditions, the cohesion of the mother-young unit is obviously a major element of the welfare of the neonate: inadequate maternal care leads invariably to early death.

Date 1996
Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 49
Issue 1
Pages 61-72
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
Language English
Author Address Laboratoire de Comportement Animal, INRA-PRMD, 37380 Nouzilly, France.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal nutrition
  3. Animal reproduction
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Australasia
  6. Australia
  7. Colostrum
  8. Commonwealth of Nations
  9. Developed countries
  10. Gestation
  11. Infants
  12. Lambs
  13. Mammals
  14. Maternal behavior
  15. neonates
  16. newborn animals
  17. Nutrition
  18. Oceania
  19. OECD countries
  20. peer-reviewed
  21. pregnancy
  22. Research
  23. Reviews
  24. Sheep
  25. Studies
  26. survival
  27. Wool
  1. peer-reviewed