Effects of rearing triplet lambs on ewe productivity, lamb survival and performance, and future ewe performance


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Increasing prolificacy has been proposed to be the most effective way to increase the biological efficiency and profitability of sheep production. However, use of prolific breeds and genes with major effects on ovulation rate can increase prolificacy to levels that may not be desirable or sustainable in extensive rangeland production systems. This study thus evaluated effects of triplet births on ewe productivity and ewe and lamb performance. An initial study used 666 purebred Polypay litters to compare ewes with triplet litters that were required to raise all the lambs (Treatment A) with those whose triplet litters were reduced to 2 lambs (Treatment R). Adult Polypay ewes had an average litter size of 2.35 lambs per litter. The frequency of litters of 3 or more lambs was 43.2%; 56.0% of lambs were born in litters of 3 or more lambs. Ewes that had singles weaned fewer lambs and less body weight (BW) of lambs (P < 0.001; 0.94 lambs and 40.4 kg, respectively) than ewes that had twins or triplets. Ewes with triplet litters in Treatment A weaned more lambs (P < 0.01) and more BW of lambs (P < 0.05) than ewes that had triplets in Treatment R (2.13 lambs and 62.9 kg, respectively, vs. 1.79 lambs and 55.0 kg, respectively), and weaned more lambs than ewes that had twins (1.77 lambs; P < 0.01). However, neither group of triplet-bearing ewes weaned more BW of lambs than ewes that had twins (58.9 kg; P >= 0.34). In 2 sets of data involving 442 purebred Polypay litters and 987 litters from Polypay or Romanov-White Dorper x Rambouillet ewes mated to terminal sires, ewes were required to raise all triplet-born lambs. Death losses for triplets in these studies (39.6 and 31.6%, respectively) were higher than those in Treatment A of the initial study (26.2%), resulting in greater numbers of lambs weaned for triplet, compared to twin, litters (1.79 vs. 1.68, respectively; P = 0.02) but no greater weight of lambs weaned (54.3 vs. 55.4 kg, respectively; P = 0.17). Based on these 3 sets of data, ewes that were required to rear triplet lambs weaned 0.20 more lambs per litter than ewes that had twins but also had 0.75 additional dead lambs per litter, and thus a lamb mortality overhead of 3.75 additional dead lambs for each additional weaned lamb. We conclude that there is an intermediate optimum prolificacy level for extensive rangeland production systems. If optimum prolificacy is exceeded, removal and artificial rearing of surplus lambs are necessary to avoid increased lamb death losses.



ewe productivity, prolificacy, Reproduction, sheep, wool