Effect of breed and litter size on the display of maternal perinatal and offspring postnatal behavior in dairy sheep

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Abstract

A preliminary study was conducted to examine the effects of breed and litter size on the expression of ewes' maternal and lambs' neonatal behavior in 3 Greek dairy breeds. Animal observations were carried out on 7 Karagouniko (3 single- and 4 twin-bearing ewes), 7 Chios (4 single- and 3 twin-bearing ewes), and 7 Orini Epirus (4 single- and 3 twin-bearing ewes) multiparous ewes during 12 hours before and after parturition of each lamb. Overall, labor was not significantly different among the 3 breeds, although was shorter for first-born twin lambs compared to singletons (P < 0.05). Chios ewes devoted significantly more time grooming their lambs in the immediate postnatal period compared to the Karagouniko ewes (P < 0.05), and the mean for the interaction between the ewe and the lambs (min/h) for the first 12-hour period after birth was higher in Chios compared to the other 2 breeds (P < 0.05). As it was found, second-born twin lambs received less grooming attention than singles and first-born twins (P < 0.05). In general, the birth of lamb stimulated intensive grooming attention for the first 30 minutes, followed by a gradual decline in the next 30-minute period (P < 0.05). Latency for lamb to stand, walk, and reach the udder was not influenced by litter size and breed, although Chios tended to reach the udder later than the other lambs (P = 0.120). The time standing during the first hour after birth was significantly higher in Karagouniko compared with Chios lambs (P < 0.05). This study demonstrates that limited significant breed differences exist among the examined dairy breeds in several aspects of both maternal and neonatal behavior. Ewe behavioral patterns associated with the birth and care of the neonatal lambs are essential for the survival and growth of the offspring. Further experimentation is therefore warranted to reach to reliable conclusions and elucidate the factors that differentiate maternal and neonatal behavior in Greek sheep dairy breeds.

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