Reproductive wastage is a key issue for sheep producers, both regionally and globally. The reproductive output of farm animals can be influenced by physiological and environmental factors. Rapid and reliable quantification of physiological stress can provide a useful tool for designing and testing on-farm management interventions to improve farm animal welfare and productivity. In this study, we quantified physiological stress non-invasively using faecal glucocorticoid metabolites-FGMs analysis and body temperature measurements of 15 superovulated donor merino ewes (Ovis aries) during participation in artificial insemination (AI) program conducted during 2015/2016 Australian summer. We hypothesized that low percentage transferable embryos in donor merino ewes will be associated positively with higher body temperature and/or higher FGMs in these ewes. Temperature humidity index (THI) was calculated and found within high thermal stress range during the two AI trials. Overall, results showed none of the factors (ewe ID, AI trial no., THI or FGMs) were significant for reduced percentage transferrable embryos, except ewe body temperature was highly significant (p = 0.014). Within AI trial comparisons showed significant positive associations between higher FGMs and body temperature with reduced transferrable embryos. These results suggest that Australian merino ewes participating in summer AI trials can experience physiological stress. Prolonged activation of the stress endocrine response and high body temperature (e.g. ensued from heat stress) could impact on ewe reproductive output. Therefore, future research should apply minimally invasive physiological tools to gather baseline information on physiological stress in merino sheep to enable the development of new farm-friendly methods of managing stress.
Narayan, E., Sawyer, G., & Parisella, S. (2018). Faecal glucocorticoid metabolites and body temperature in Australian merino ewes (Ovis aries) during summer artificial insemination (AI) program. PLoS One, 13(1), 1-14. [e0191961]. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0191961