Shelter type and birth number influence the birth and death sites of lambs and ewe movement around lambing time

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Abstract

A significant number of lambs born each yr in Australia die within 72 h of birth. Periods of high wind, combined with rain and low temperatures, can lead to marked increases in the level of mortality. Under these weather conditions mortality levels may be reduced with the provision of shelter, provided it is utilized by lambs. This study used GPS collars to determine the use of shelter by ewes and lambs, to compare the movement of ewes with twin lambs across 2 types of shelter (hedgerows and shrubs), while also comparing ewes with single and twin lambs in a single shelter type (hedgerows). Additionally, the birth sites of 364 lambs and death sites of 252 lambs were recorded across the 3 shelter type and litter size combinations (Twins in shrubs, Twins in hedgerows, Singles in hedgerows) plus an unsheltered group (Singles in unsheltered). A higher (P < 0.001) than randomly expected percentage of ewes lambed in the areas closest to both shelter types; in the shrub shelter 42% of ewes lambed within 2.5 m of shrub rows compared to an expected 11% based on the proportion of the paddock this area constituted. Despite the higher than expected percentage of ewes lambing close to the shelter rows, ewes in both twin lamb shelter types avoided the areas close to the shelter before and after lambing (Hedgerows-2.5 m; Shrubs- 6.25 m) and single bearing ewes showed no preference for or against these areas. With a high proportion of twin bearing ewes lambing close to the shelter, a design that reduces the potential for ewe and offspring separation while providing good shelter will offer the greatest potential reduction in newborn twin lamb mortality arising from exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-90
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Volume95
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

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