Full Paper

Neonatal lamb vigour is improved by feeding docosahexaenoic acid in the form of algal biomass during late gestation

R. M. Pickarda1 c1, A. P. Bearda1, C. J. Seala1 and S. A. Edwardsa1

a1 Newcastle University, School of Agriculture Food and Rural Development, Agriculture Building, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 7RU, UK


To determine whether feeding a sustainable, algal source of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) to sheep during late pregnancy would improve neonatal lamb vigour, 48 English mule ewes, of known conception date, were divided into four treatment groups. For the last 9 weeks of gestation, ewes received one of two dietary supplements: either a DHA-rich algal biomass providing 12 g DHA/ewe per day, or a control supplement based on vegetable oil. The four dietary treatment groups (n = 12) were: control supplement for the duration of the trial (C), DHA supplement from 9 to 6 weeks before parturition (3 week), DHA supplement from 9 to 3 weeks before parturition (6 week) and DHA supplement for the duration of the trial (9 week). Dietary supplements were fed alongside grass silage and commercial concentrate. There was a tendency for gestation length to be extended with increased duration of DHA supplementation (P = 0.08). After parturition, the concentrations of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and DHA in ewe and lamb plasma and colostrum were elevated in line with increased periods of DHA supplementation. Lambs from the 6-week and 9-week groups stood significantly sooner after birth than lambs from the C group (P < 0.05). These data show that neonatal vigour may be improved by the supplementation of maternal diets with DHA-rich algal biomass and that this beneficial effect depends upon the timing and/or duration of DHA allocation.

(Received September 2006)

(Accepted September 19 2007)


c1 E-mail: r.m.pickard@ncl.ac.uk