Free Access
Reprod. Nutr. Dev.
Volume 46, Number 4, July-August 2006
Symposium: Influence of nutrition and socio-sexual context on reproduction and survival of the young in goats and sheep
Page(s) 431 - 446
Published online 07 July 2006
Reprod. Nutr. Dev. 46 (2006) 431-446
DOI: 10.1051/rnd:2006023

From birth to colostrum: early steps leading to lamb survival

Raymond Nowak and Pascal Poindron

Laboratoire de Comportements, Neurobiologie et Adaptation, UMR 6175 CNRS-INRA-Université François Rabelais-Haras Nationaux, Unité de Physiologie de la Reproduction et des Comportements, INRA, 37380 Nouzilly, France

(Published online 7 July 2006)

Abstract - New-born lambs have limited energy reserves and need a rapid access to colostrum to maintain homeothermy and survive. In addition to energy, colostrum provides immunoglobulins which ensure passive systemic immunity. Therefore, getting early access to the udder is essential for the neonate. The results from the literature reviewed here highlight the importance of the birth site as the location where the mutual bonding between the mother and her young takes place. Attraction to birth fluids by the periparturient ewe leads to intense licking of the lamb. Grooming not only dries, cleans and stimulates the newborn it also facilitates bonding through learning of its individual odour. Ewes having twins should ideally stay on the birth site for at least six hours in order to establish a strong bond with both lambs and favour lambs survival. However, primiparous ewes or ewes having high levels of emotivity are more likely to exhibit poor maternal behaviour. In addition, difficult parturition and weather conditions have an indirect effect on the behaviour of the mother and are other major causes of lamb death. On the lamb's side, rapid access to the udder and early suckling are extremely important. Delayed lactation or insufficient colostrum yield may be fatal especially since suckling has strong rewarding properties in the establishment of a preference for the mother, which in turn increases lamb survival. Insufficient access to the udder in mothers leaving the birth site too soon after parturition, especially in twin-bearing ewes, could also partly account for the high incidence of loss of mother-young contact and subsequent death in such lambs. Strategies to improve neonatal survival should be aimed at maximising lamb vigour, colostrum production, and mutual mother-young bonding through adequate feeding in late pregnancy and selection on behaviour.

Key words: energy reserve / colostrums / suckling / maternal behaviour / bonding / ewe / lamb / nutrition  / survival

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© INRA, EDP Sciences 2006