The aim of the present study was to determine if there is a difference in ovulation- and conception rates, in semiintensively managed Dohne-Merino ewes, flush fed with diets containing different nitrogen sources. Four different nitrogen sources were chosen due to the difference in dietary amino acid composition and cost. In order for a sheep farming enterprise to maximize profitability it is essential to optimize ovulation- and conception rates and to minimize lamb losses in order to increase weaning percentage and therefore profitability. However the cost of dietary supplementation is high and may increase production costs and minimize profitability. One hundred and fourty four (144) Dohne-Merino ewes (age between 14 to 85 months) were included in two dietary supplementation trials (autumn and summer) at the experimental farm of the University of Pretoria in Hatfield. The ewes were divided equally into two trial groups (n=72), with the first trial done in season 1 (started in May 2001, typical breeding season) and the second trial done in season 2 (started in November 2001, out of season; 2nd breeding season). During the day the ewes had ad-libitum access to graze on Festuca arundinaceace (Tall Fescue). In both trials the ewes (n=72) were randomly allocated into four dietary supplementation groups, each group receiving a dietary supplement with a different combination of nitrogen sources. The four dietary supplements were formulated on an iso-nitrogen basis, to eliminate the effect of protein level, and to emphasize the possible effect of protein quality (amino acid composition) on ovulation, conception and lambing rates. In both trials the total amount of crude protein intake per ewe was calculated at 256.40g/day, while the total daily allowance of digestible crude protein was calculated at 190g per ewe. The 256.40g crude protein intake per ewe per day is 2 times more than the threshold level of 125g per ewe per day. A minimum daily crude protein intake of 125g is needed for effective rumen functioning, and this together with the interconvertin of energy by the rumen indicates the complex nature of relating dietary differences to physiological responses. These values were kept the same for both the trials in season 1 and 2. The bulk of the 256.40g crude protein per day was obtained from grazing on the Festuca arundinaceace pasture. In season 1 the dietary supplement had to provide 40.00g of crude protein per day in order to get to a daily crude protein intake of 256.40g, while in season 2 the provision from the dietary supplement was calculated to be 37.45g of crude protein. The difference in the crude protein level, obtained from grazing of the Festuca arundinaceace between season 1 and 2 was due to pasture quality differences. The nitrogen sources used in the trials were urea, sunflower oilcake meal, cottonseed oilcake meal and a mixture of cottonseed oilcake meal and fishmeal. These dietary supplements were fed for a period of 9 days before mating; the weight of each ewe was recorded before the onset of the trial and again on the second day after mating to establish any live weight changes. Synchronization of the ewes was done with Chrono-gest grey sponges (40mg Fluorogestone acetate) from day one and was repeated from day 23. On day 12 each ewe were injected with 1.0ml prostaglandin F2α (Prosolvin,each milliliter containing 7.5mg Luprostiol). On day fourteen the sponges were removed and two days later all the ewes were checked for cyclic activity with the aid of six vasectomized rams. The six vasectomized rams were introduced to the whole laparoscopy group of 12 ewes, and every ewe that stood twice for mating were identified as cyclic. This practice continued for a period of 30 minutes in the morning and repeated for another 30 minutes in the afternoon up to day 18. The second round of sponges were inserted on day 23 and removed on day 37. Ewes were mated by means of hand mating with two different rams from day 39 to 42. A laparoscopy technique was used on day 45 of the trial to count the number of ovulation points (corpora lutea) on each ovarium of each ewe. The number of fetuses of each ewe was counted on day 90 after mating by means of ultrasound scanning and at birth the number of lambs born was also recorded. In both these trials dietary supplementation had no significant effect on ovulation, conception and lambing rates. However, looking at the Odds Ratio Analysis for the 144 ewes over the two breeding seasons, the different dietary supplements had a significant influence on the number of ovulation points (p<0.05). Compared to urea (dietary supplement 1), the fishmeal cottonseed oil cake mixture (dietary supplement 4) yielded the best results (1.306), followed by the cottonseed oil cake meal (dietary supplement 3) (1.298), and sunflower oil cake meal (dietary supplement 2) (1.050). The same Odds Ratio Analysis showed that the different dietary supplements had a significant effect on the number of lambs born (p<0.01). Compared to urea (dietary supplement 1), the fishmeal cottonseed oil cake mixture (dietary supplement 4) yielded better results (1.086), followed by urea (dietary supplement 1) (1.000), and sunflower oil cake meal (dietary supplement 2) (0.801) and lastly cottonseed oil cake meal (dietary supplement 3) (0.784). Breeding season (p<0.05) had a significant effect on the number of ovulation points but no difference was observed in terms of the number of lambs born. Age (p<0.01) had a significant effect on the number of ovulation points, the number of fetuses counted as well as the number of lambs born. Change in live weight (p<0.05) had a significant effect on the number of ovulation points per ewe but as with breeding season it had no significant effect on the number of lambs born. Birth status of a ewe (p<0.05), had a significant effect on the number of fetuses and the number of lambs born. The data of both the trials in season 1 and 2 suggests that under the conditions of the study with the odds ratio analyses that the four different dietary supplements had a significantly different effect compared to dietary supplement one on the number of ovulation points and the number of lambs born. However, factors like breeding season, age, change in live weight and birth status of the ewe also had a significant effect on ovulation and conception rates in Dohne-Merino ewes.
Dissertation (MSc(Agric))--University of Pretoria, 2011.