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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Effects of sex, litter size and periconceptional ewe nutrition on the ewe-lamb bond

Hernandez, Carlos E.; Matthews, Lindsay R.; Oliver, Mark H.; Bloomfield, Frank H.; Harding, Jane E.


Undernutrition restricted to the time around conception in sheep alters endocrine and metabolic responses in the offspring. Studies in rats suggest that such an early insult can also alter the behaviour of the offspring. We studied the effects of mild maternal periconceptional undernutrition (10-15% body weight reduction) on the lamb's response to separation from and reunion with the mother, and on the ewe-lamb bond, evaluated as the preference for each other over an alien ewe/lamb in a test enclosure, at 24 h 1 and 4 weeks of age. Lamb birth weight was not affected by maternal nutrition. Maternal periconceptional undernutrition did not affect the lambs' responses to separation and reunion (number of vocalisations, times to leave pen and achieve proximity with ewes) or the bond between ewes and lambs (percentage of time spent near their own dam/lamb). However, there were effects of sex, litter size and time on lambs' responses to separation and reunion and on the ewe-lamb bond. Female lambs vocalised more during separation (P <= 0.01) and left the holding pen faster than males (P <= 0.05), and twins vocalised more than singletons (P <= 0.05). The time to leave the holding pen, achieve proximity with the ewes and number of vocalisations decreased with increasing postnatal age of the lamb (all P <= 0.001). Ewes showed a stronger preference for the lamb at 24 h and 1 week than at 4 weeks postpartum (P <= 0.001), whereas lambs followed an opposite trend, showing a lower preference for the mother at 24 h and 1 week and increased preference at 4 weeks of age (P <= 0.001). We conclude that periconceptional undernutrition does not affect offspring response to separation from the mother or the bond between ewes and lambs, but that these behaviours are affected by sex and litter size for up to 4 weeks after birth. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.


Sheep; Prenatal undernutrition; Preferential bond; Behaviour

Published in

Applied Animal Behaviour Science
2009, Volume: 120, number: 1-2, pages: 76-83

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Animal and Dairy Science

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