Influence of litter size and parity on maternal behaviour at parturition in Scottish Blackface sheep

C. E. O'Connor*, A. B. Lawrence, D. G M Wood-Gush

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The influence of litter size and parity on ewe behaviour at parturition and on the relationships between ewe and lamb behaviour are investigated. Focal animal observations were made at parturition on the behaviour of 50 primiparous and multiparous single- and twin-bearing Scottish Blackface ewes. The results illustrate the extent to which ewe grooming behaviour is influenced by litter size. The birth of the second-born twin resulted in a large reduction in grooming of the first-born twin. Despite this compensation by the ewe, to grooming the newborn lamb, the second-born twin received significantly less grooming in the first 10 min of life than either first-born twins or single lambs. Individual twin lambs received less grooming overall than singles, even though twin-bearing ewes showed some enhancement in total grooming activity. Although an ewe's previous experience did not affect the overall proportion of time spent grooming, primiparous ewes were found to be slower in switching their grooming behaviour from the first-born to the newborn second twin. Parity had a strong effect on ewes' responses to active lambs, shown by inappropriate movements by primiparous ewes as lambs attempted to suck. Single lambs were more active and made more sucking attempts than twin lambs. The present results suggest that ewe behaviour is one factor that influences lamb behaviour at parturition, particularly lamb activity and sucking behaviour.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-355
Number of pages11
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1992
Externally publishedYes


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