Good mothering - is it all in the genes?

Monday, 30 July 2007

Just like humans, some ewes find the role of new motherhood more stressful than others. Researchers based at the University of Adelaide's Roseworthy Campus are investigating how this impacts on lamb survival.

Animal Science Honours student Kate Lennon is conducting a trial over a 10-day lambing period to assess ewes' bonding behaviour and its effect on lamb survival. She and fellow students are monitoring a South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) flock of pregnant ewes at Turretfield Research Station.

"Lamb survival is a huge issue in Australia from both welfare and production aspects," says Ms Lennon. "Newborn lamb mortality rates are around 20%; there is great potential for improvement."

Ms Lennon will be monitoring two groups of ewes, previously identified as either calm or nervous types through behavioural response tests. Maternal behaviours affecting lamb survival at birth include the time the ewe spends at the lambing site, the isolation from the rest of the flock and the grooming of its lamb.

"These behaviours are likely to promote a stronger bond between the mother and lamb," says Ms Lennon. "If a strong bond is formed, the ewe is less likely to reject the lamb in the crucial first three days and the lamb is more likely to survive."

The project aims to establish genetic correlations between the ewes of different temperament and their behavioural traits and lamb survival. Genetic analysis will also be conducted to assess whether other production traits are likely to be correlated.

The ultimate aim would be to help sheep producers identify and breed for better mothering abilities without any loss of other production.

Ms Lennon's supervisor is Professor Phil Hynd, Director of Roseworthy campus. The project is being conducted in collaboration with SARDI Livestock Systems at Turretfield Research Station.


Contact Details

Kate Lennon
PhD student
School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences
University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 7643
Mobile: 0410 648 088

Professor Phil Hynd
Roseworthy Campus
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 7871
Mobile: 0438 743 336

Ms Robyn Mills
Media and Communications Officer
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 6341
Mobile: +61 410 689 084