The Journal of Agricultural Science

Research Article

The interaction of nutrition and body condition at mating on ovulation rate and early embryo mortality in Scottish Blackface ewes

R. G. Gunna1 and J. M. Doneya1

a1 Hill Farming Research Organization, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, EH26 0PY


One hundred and fifty-six Scottish Blackface ewes were differentially group-fed over a 2-month period to achieve three distinct levels of body condition (good, moderate and very poor). Over 5 weeks prior to mating, one group of good-condition ewes was maintained in that condition, one group of good- and one of moderate-condition ewes were brought down in condition by restricted feeding and one group of moderate and the very poor condition ewes were raised in condition by a high level of feeding. Ewes were therefore in good, moderately good or poor condition at mating. After mating, ewes were killed either on return to service or at 25 ± 5 days for counts of corpora lutea and viable embryos.

Poor body condition, irrespective of feeding level, was associated with a delay or suppression of oestrus and with a high return-to-service rate. Ovulation rate was positively related to body condition at mating but not to the level of pre-mating food intake at the condition levels studied.

Embryo mortality decreased as body condition at mating increased and the interaction between condition and the level of pre-mating food intake had a differential effect on mortality of single- and multiple-shed ova. The lowest rate of embryo mortality was found in ewes in moderately good condition which had been well-fed before mating.

(Received March 17 1975)