The study was carried out on a commercial New Zealand sheep farm with performance recorded straightbred Finnish Landrace and Texel primiparous ewes. The objective of the study was to determine the strength of ewe-lamb attachment at tagging by investigating the behaviour of Finn and Texel ewes and their lambs and relate those behaviours to survival to weaning. Lamb and ewe behaviour was observed for ten minutes after the lambs were ear tagged. Finn ewes took at least twice as long to contact their lambs than Texel ewes (P<0.01). There were no breed differences for time of lamb to stand and suck after tagging. Finn twin lambs took longer to follow their dam than Texel twin lambs (P<0.01). Ewes with higher Maternal Behaviour Score (high MBS favourable) contact their lambs quicker and the lamb stood, sucked and followed its moving dam more quickly than lambs of ewes with low MBS (P<0.05). Texel ewes with twins had higher low-pitch bleating frequencies than Texel ewes with a single lamb (P<0.01). MBS had a significant and positive effect on low-pitch bleating frequency (β=19.3 ± 3.51 bleats/MBS, P<0.0001). Ewes with lower MBS at tagging high-pitch bleated significantly more if their lamb took longer to stand (β=5.25 ± 0.65 bleats/minute, P<0.0001). Lamb survival improved3-fold for lambs that sucked their dam (P<0.01) and improved nearly 5-fold for lambs that stand, within ten minutes after tagging (P<0.05). Lamb behaviour at tagging better explained the variation in lamb survival than the ewe behaviours analysed.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 67, Wanaka, 48-54, 2007
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