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Animal. 2014 Jun;8(6):968-74. doi: 10.1017/S1751731114000500. Epub 2014 Mar 12.

Strategies for rapid rebreeding of lactating ewes in the spring.

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  • 1Department of Animal and Poultry Sciences, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061, USA.


Rapid rebreeding of winter- and spring-lambing ewes is essential if ewes are to lamb more than once per year, but fertility of lactating ewes is often low and early weaning of lambs may be undesirable in forage-based production systems. Selection to improve fertility in spring matings has been successful and led to development of ewes with a reduced seasonal anestrus. Potential for rapid rebreeding of lactating out-of-season breeding (OOS) ewes was tested in three studies. In Experiment 1, effects of short-term lamb removal on rebreeding was evaluated over 2 years using 71 January-lambing OOS ewes. At an average of 63 days postpartum, 36 ewes had lambs removed for 72 h, and all ewes were joined with rams. Circulating progesterone levels indicated that 74% of ewes ovulated before lamb separation; 91% of ewes mated within 5 weeks of ram exposure, 85% were diagnosed as pregnant and 75% lambed. The average interval between lambings was 225 days. In contrast to results observed in cattle, none of the measured variables was affected by lamb separation (P>0.20). Experiment 2 compared rebreeding performance of 24 OOS and 23 St. Croix ewes that lambed in January and averaged 60 days postpartum at ram introduction. More OOS ewes ovulated, mated and became pregnant during the first 21 days of ram exposure (83.3%, 58.3%, and 41.7%, respectively; P<0.001) compared with St. Croix ewes (26.1%, 0%, and 0%, respectively). After 39 days of ram exposure, pregnancy rates still favored OOS ewes (66.7% v. 39.1%; P=0.06), but the percentage of ewes that lambed did not differ (P>0.20) between OOS (47.8%) and St. Croix ewes (34.8%). In the third study, 34 March-lambing OOS ewes were exposed to rams on May 3 at an average of 40 days postpartum to characterize their reproductive performance. After 39 days of ram exposure, 52.9±8.7% of the ewes had mated, and 38.2±8.5% were diagnosed as pregnant. However, only 20.6±7.0% of the ewes produced viable lambs, suggesting a high level of uterine insufficiency. Spring fertility of lactating OOS ewes in these studies was one of the highest reported in the literature and indicated that selection for fertility in spring mating would improve reproductive performance in accelerated lambing programs. However, exposure of lactating OOS ewes to rams at 30 to 50 days postpartum was associated with high prenatal lamb mortality.

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