Effect of weaning system on lamb growth, mammary gland development and ewe milk production in dairy sheep managed in an outdoor pasture-based commercial farming system
The objective was to merge science and practice to determine the feasibility of a mixed suckling and milking system compared with a traditional exclusive suckling management system on the production performance of dairy sheep and their progeny in an outdoor pasture-based farming system at commercial scale. At 14 d postpartum, twin- and triplet-bearing mixed-age East Friesian ewes were randomly allocated to either a mixed system of once-a-day milking,suckling and early weaning (MS, n=61) or control with exclusive suckling and later weaning (Ctrl, n=57) using a randomised block design. MS lambs had lower live weight at weaning (14.6 vs. 16.7 kg; P<0.001) but 3-5
weeks post-weaning average daily gain and mammary gland mass was similar between groups. Ewe lamb mammary mass was positively associated with post-weaning but not pre-weaning live weight gain (P<0.01). Weaning system influenced the percentage of protein, total solids and fat (MS > Ctrl) while milk yield, somatic cell count and lactose levels were not different. This study highlighted that the MS compared
with Ctrl system had no negative effects on dam or progeny performance.
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