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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

The effect of weaning age on animal performance in lambs exposed to naturally acquired nematode infections

Hogberg, Niclas; Hessle, Anna; Lidfors, Lena; Hoglund, Johan


The effects of mixed gastrointestinal nematode (GIN) infections on animal growth and post-weaning activity patterns were investigated in grazing intact ram lambs when naturally exposed to two different infection levels and weaned at different ages. Ewes and their twin-born lambs were turned-out to graze in two permanent pasture enclosures naturally contaminated with GIN the previous year. Ewes and lambs in the low parasite exposure group (LP) were drenched before turn-out and at weaning, respectively, with 0.2 mg ivermectin per kg body weight, whereas those in the high parasite exposure group (HP) were left untreated. Two weaning ages were applied, early weaning (EW) (10 weeks) and late weaning (LW) (14 weeks), respectively. The lambs were then allocated to one out of four groups based on parasite exposure level and weaning age (EW-HP, n = 12; LW-HP, n = 11; EW-LP, n = 13; LW-LP, n = 13). Body weight gain (BWG) and faecal egg counts (FEC) were monitored, in all groups, from the day of early weaning and every four weeks, for 10 weeks. In addition, nematode composition was determined using droplet digital PCR. Activity patterns measured as Motion Index (MI; the absolute value of the 3D acceleration) and lying time were monitored continuously from the day of weaning until four weeks postweaning using IceQube (R) sensors. Statistical analyses were performed in RStudio, using mixed models with repeated measures. BWG was 11% lower in EW-HP compared with EW-LP (P = 0.0079) and 12% lower compared with LW-HP (P = 0.018), respectively. In contrast, no difference in BWG was observed between LW-HP and LW-LP (P = 0.97). The average EPG was higher in EW-HP compared with EW-LP (P < 0.001), as well as in EW-HP compared with LW-HP (P = 0.021), and LW-HP compared with LW-LP (P = 0.0022). The molecular investigation showed that animals in LW-HP had a higher proportion of Haemonchus contortus compared with EW-HP. MI was 19% lower in EW-HP compared with EW-LP (P = 0.0004). Daily lying time was 15% shorter in EW-HP compared with EW-LP (P = 0.0070). In contrast, no difference in MI (P = 0.13) and lying time (P = 0.99) between LW-HP and LW-LP was observed. The results suggest that a delayed weaning age may reduce the adverse effects of GIN infection on BWG. Contrarily, an earlier weaning age may reduce the risk of H. contortus infection in lambs. Moreover, the results demonstrates a potential use of automated behaviour recordings as a diagnostic tool for the detection of nematode infections in sheep.


Accelerometers; Behaviour; Haemonchus; Health monitoring; Sheep; Weaning age

Published in

Veterinary Parasitology
2023, Volume: 316, article number: 109900
Publisher: ELSEVIER