Can lambs compensate for less milk by grazing more often?


  • C.A.M. Moffat
  • J.M. Deaker
  • G.J. Wallace
  • M.W. Fisher
  • P.D. Muir
  • P.D. Johnstone



Lamb behaviour was investigated where varying stocking rates and rearing rank indirectly induced differences in ewe milk production. 24 Romney x Poll Dorset ewes, with either twin or single lambs, were stocked at either 25 or 15 ewes per hectare, three weeks after lambing (2 August ± 1.0 days). Lamb activity (grazing, otherwise active, or inactive) was determined by instantaneous scan sampling at 3-min intervals over 4 hours at 3, 6, 9 and 12 weeks of age. Milk production, estimated by machine milking and lamb live weights were also measured at these ages, on the day prior to observations. Ewes with twin lambs produced slightly more milk than ewes with singles (213 vs. 183 ml per 4 hours, respectively). Ewes on the high stocking rate produced an average of 181 ml milk per 4 hours compared with 216 ml per 4 hours in the low stocking rate group. Twin lambs spent significantly more time grazing than did single lambs (52.3% vs. 41.0% overall, respectively) and lambs on the higher stocking rate spent on average 10% more time grazing, than those stocked less densely. These results suggest that lambs with access to less milk spend more time by grazing, but this does not adequately compensate for the lower milk supply which resulted in reduced lamb growth rates. This raises the possibility of enhancing lamb growth rates prior to weaning by providing high quality, lamb-specific forage to the lamb independently of the ewe. Keywords: ewe milk production, grazing, lamb behaviour, lamb growth rate