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Hormonal induction of lactation in non-pregnant ewes

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Exogenous hormone treatments designed to induce nonpregnant ewes to lactate at levels sufficient to rear orphan lambs were investigated in three breeds (Blackface, Dorset and Greyface) and in a total of 14 groups. The hormone treatments consisted of an induction phase lasting 1-6 weeks during which most ewes received daily subcutaneous injections of 75 mg of progesterone and 100 g of oestradiol-17, and a trigger phase lasting 1 or 2 weeks during which 5 mg of oestradiol-17 and/or 10 mg of dexamethasone were given daily and the daily dose of progesterone was reduced to zero. From the end of the trigger phase for at least 2 weeks, milk production was determined three times daily by hand milking after prior intravenous injections of 5 IU of oxytocin. The linear dimensions of the udder were measured in each ewe at 5-6 day intervals throughout the induction and trigger phases. Udder sizes increased in response to hormone treatment in all cases, and the rate of increase was usually 1.75-11.3 times greater during the trigger phase than during the induction phase. Accumulation of milk in the udder during the trigger phase resulted in mean milk yields of 212-763 ml on the first day of milking, which were higher than the mean yields of 130-354 ml on the second day. Thereafter the mean daily milk yields increased progressively to reach 579-1301 ml after 14 days of milking. Group comparisons revealed the following: an induction phase of at least 4 weeks duration was required to ensure that all hormone-treated ewes produced 800 ml or more of milk/day by 14 days of milking; during the trigger phase, oestadiol-17 alone was a more effective lactogenic agent than dexamethasone alone, and dexamethasone apparently hindered the lactogenic actions of oestradiol-17 when both hormones were given together; extending the duration of the trigger phase from 1 to 2 weeks did not improve subsequent milk yields; and there were no significant breed differences in milk yield responses to similar hormone treatments. It is concluded that a 4-6 week induction phase followed by a 1-week trigger phase using the progesterone and oestradiol-17 doses noted above but excluding dexamethasone would induce in most nonpregnant ewes lactation at levels sufficient to rear orphan lambs. Compared to the compositions of normal colostrum and milk, the milk from some of the present ewes had lower dry matter contents, fat concentrations and immunoglobulin-G concentrations and generally similar lactose concentrations. These differences were not considered to be sufficient to jeopardise the survival of lambs reared by such ewes.
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Keywords: Endocrine; Mammary gland; Milk production; Reproductive hormones; Sheep

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 1, 1993

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