Investigating associations between lamb survival to weaning and dam udder and teat scores

Investigating associations between lamb survival to weaning and dam udder and teat scores
Peer reviewed

Abstract

Aims: To examine a range of udder and teat traits in Romney ewes and to describe the frequency with which different scores occur, and to investigate associations between lamb survival to weaning and ewe udder and teat scores.

Methods: Mixed-age, mature Romney ewes (n = 1,009) were enrolled from a commercial sheep flock located in the Wellington region of New Zealand in January 2017. A range of udder and teat traits were scored in all ewes, using visual assessment and palpation, at pre-mating (February), pre-lambing (October), docking (November) and weaning (January 2018). During the lambing period each newborn lamb was matched to its dam, with lamb mortalities recorded until weaning. Associations between udder and teat scores and lamb survival to weaning were examined using multivariable models for each udder-scoring time.

Results: Records from 981 ewes and 1,822 live-born lambs were included in analyses, with 252 (13.8%) lambs recorded dead between birth and weaning. Lambs born to ewes with pre-mating udder scores of lump or hard had 4.9 (95% CI = 2.6–9.6, p = 0.003) and 3.0 (95% CI = 1.5–6.1, p < 0.001) increased odds of failure to survive to weaning, respectively, compared with lambs whose dams had normal udder scores. Lambs born to ewes with mastitis at docking or weaning had 3.0 (95% CI = 1.5–5.9, p = 0.001) and 3.9 (95% CI = 1.3–11.6, p = 0.013) increased odds of failure to survive to weaning, respectively, compared with lambs whose dams did not have mastitis. Offspring of dams with asymmetrical udders at docking or weaning had 3.3 (95% CI = 2.2–4.9, p < 0.001) and 2.5 (95% CI = 1.5–4.0, p < 0.001) increased odds of failure to survive, respectively, compared with lambs whose dams had symmetrical udders.

Conclusion and Clinical Relevance: Pre-mating udder palpation scores of hard or lump were associated with increased odds of lambs not surviving to weaning compared with normal scores, and could be used to identify ewes that are likely to be unsuitable for retaining in the breeding flock. Farmers could also use clinical mastitis scores and udder symmetry scores at docking or weaning to identify ewes whose lambs had greater odds of failure to survive to weaning. However these scores do not provide an indication of future performance, therefore further investigation into the impact of the present season’s score on future seasons’ lamb survival is required.


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