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The influence of live weight and body condition on the subsequent milk production of Blackface ewes following a period of undernourishment in early lactation

  • J. N. Peart (a1)
Summary

In each of two years, 36 Blackface ewes were brought to a high state of body condition at mating and in early gostation. At approximately 16 weeks prepartum the ewes were divided into two similar groups and fed to maintain the live weight and body condition of one group (fat), and to decrease that of the other group (lean). At 8 weeks prepartum mean differences of 14kg live weight and two scores of body condition had been created between the groups. During the last 6 weeks of pregnancy food was rationed to all ewes per unit of live weight to provide the theoretical requirements of Blackface ewes in late pregnancy. Both groups of ewes made similar live-weight gains in late pregnancy and blood plasma F.F.A. values confirmed that the ewes had been similarly nourished regardless of live weight or body condition. During early lactation food was restricted to fat and lean groups of ewes for either a 2- or 4- week period followed by ad lib. feeding for the remainder of lactation. A lamb-suckling technique was used to measure milk production during a 10-week lactation. During the first and second weeks of lactation the mean milk production of groups of both fat and lean ewes was approximately 2·1 and 1·3 kg/day for twin- and single-suckled ewes respectively. Ad lib. feeding following restricted feeding during the first 2 weeks of lactation resulted in increased milk production of fat and of lean ewes to mean maximum values of approximately 2·7 and 1·7 kg/day for twin- and single-suckled ewes respectively. In contrast, groups of ewes which had restricted feeding for the first 4 weeks of lactation showed almost no increase in milk production when fed ad lib. During the extended period of restricted feeding the milk production of twin-suckled ewes which were fat at parturition was significantly greater than that of twin-suckled lean ewes but there was no difference with singlesuckled ewes. All groups of ewes lost similar amounts of live weight and body condition during their respective periods of restricted feeding. In the respective 6-week periods following ad lib. feeding the live-weight gain of the lean ewes was significantly greater than that of the fat ewes (339 v. 222 and 356 v. 250 g/day for twin- and single-suckled ewes respectively), but they did not attain parity of live weight by the end of lactation. When fed ad lib. the mean intake of all groups of ewes attained similar maximum values of approximately 2·2 kg D.O.M./day. The results indicate that the stage of lactation is an overriding factor governing the response to increased nutrition and that body condition of ewes at parturition acts as a buffer between nutrient intake and nutrient requirements for lactation. It is suggested that when body reserves of ewes are severely depleted, factors other than nutrient intake may become limiting to milk production.

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The Journal of Agricultural Science
  • ISSN: 0021-8596
  • EISSN: 1469-5146
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-agricultural-science
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