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Successful fostering of orphan lambs by non-pregnant ewes induced to lactate using exogenous hormone treatment

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Six nonpregnant ewes were induced to lactate by an exogenous hormone treatment lasting 6 weeks. At the end of the treatment one alien lamb was adopted by each ewe. Each ewe was initially indifferent to the alien lamb and required only mild restraint to allow the lambs to suck successfully. Maternal interest subsequently increased and strong ewe-lamb bonding was evident by 80 minutes (n=1), 10 hours (n=4) or 24 hours (n=1) in different cases. The lambs required supplementary milk for 4-6 days while milk production by the ewes increased to adequate levels. Thereafter they were reared entirely by the ewes. Another four nonpregnant ewes were induced to lactate by a similar hormone treatment and were then hand-milked thrice daily for 23 weeks. One alien lamb was then removed after 10-30 minutes. The ewes were then injected subcutaneously with 5 mg of oestradiol-17 and were placed in fostering stocks. After a further 3-5 hours the lambs were re-introduced. Strong ewe-lamb bonding occurred during the subsequent 10 hours in all cases. All 10 lambs were reared successfully by these ewes until at least 3 months of age, when observations stopped. It was concluded firstly that nonpregnant ewes induced to lactate artificially will adopt and rear orphan lambs successfully, provided that additional milk is given to meet shortfalls during the first 4-6 days; and secondly that a 5 mg injection of oestradiol-17 may facilitate fostering of lambs by ewes in established lactation whether the lactation is induced artificially or not.
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Keywords: Behaviour; Endocrine; Mammary gland; Milk production; Reproductive hormones; Sheep

Document Type: Short Communication

Publication date: 01 December 1993

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