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Management of
Reproduction of Sheep
Brian C. Buckrell

Theriogenology Section, breed selected principally for repro- 50% of the genetic make-up of off-
Department of Clinical Studies, ductive traits and a ram selected from spring, affecting not only production
Ontario Veterinary College, a breed know for production traits. traits (birth weight, average daily
University of Guelph, Guelph, A variety of ewe breeds are avail- gain), but as well reproductive traits
Ontario NIG 2WI able, each with different reproduc- of potential flock replacements (se-
Can Vet J 1987; 28: 374-377 tive capabilities, and the potential to men production, ovulation rate, on-
improve flock performance. Exam- set of puberty, seasonality).
ples of reproductive traits include ex- A breeding soundness evaluation,
tending breeding season (Dorset), early when possible, should include obser-
Introduction onset of puberty (Finnish Landrace), vation of libido, intromission, and so-
The properly trained veterinarian increased ovulation rate (Finnish cial behavior. A ram with inferior
is well suited to offer counsel to Landrace, Romanov), and environ- fertility may be socially dominant to
sheep producers. In addition to coor- mental suitability (Scottish Blackface) a reproductively superior ram and in-
dinating advice from engineers, nu- (1). terfere with its opportunity to breed.
tritionists, geneticists, and agricultural New producers are often unaware Testicular palpation and measurement
specialists, the veterinarian is quali- of, or lack the staying power for, the can be used to estimate sperm pro-
fied to monitor flock health/disease long term gains made possible through duction potential, especially in year-
and introduce programs to improve breed selection, and turn instead to ling rams (3, 4). Scrotal circumference
and manipulate flock reproduction. immediate, but more costly, short term is directly related to sperm concen-
When offering counsel the veterinar- gains made through hormonal meth- tration in semen, sperm motility, per-
ian must be made aware of the per- ods of manipulation of reproduction. cent morphologically normal sperm,
sonal and production goals of the As a result we are in danger of los- first service conception rate, and
individual producer with the intent ing some breed attributes. For exam- lambing rate (1, 3). Replacement ewes
of reducing unnecessary waste and ple, the Dorset, a ewe breed with an from rams with above average testi-
increasing profits. Flock performance extended breeding season of great cular measurements have higher ovu-
records are essential to identify pro- value to producers, is being forced lation rates and reach puberty earlier
blems. to compete with ram breed traits (e.g. (5). As testicular size is inherent, rams
Breeding programs can be designed Suffolk) in the show ring and at ram should be selected with all potential
to improve scheduling of labor and testing stations where sheep receive benefits in mind (6). When measur-
use of facilities. Reproductive man- their highest profile. Accordingly, ing testicles, consideration must be
agement can increase the lambs breeders are selecting Dorsets for pro- given to breed, age, body weight,
weaned per ewe per year as well as duction traits (e.g. rate of gain) in- and season; averages are available for
improve lamb marketing by increas- stead of extended seasonality and are most breeds (7,8).
ing production of lamb in the nontra- relying on hormones to produce out- Infectious causes of ram infertility
ditional seasons. of-season lambs. The Dorset breed, are less commonly reported in cental
Many flocks will benefit simply and in turn the sheep industry, will and eastern Canada than in western
through improvements in reproduc- lose this natural extended breeding range flocks (9). However, with in-
tive husbandry practices, such as the season if this practice continues. creased inter-provincial transport of
selection of suitable breeds, improve- Technology can be used to manip- sheep, reproductive disease must al-
ments in ram selection, and the use ulate a well-designed genetic pool but ways be considered. Venereally-
of teaser rams. Well-managed flocks should not be used as an alternative transmitted disease is associated with
will benefit further from hormonally for poor breed selection and man- reduced conception rates, early em-
induced out-of-season breeding, syn- agement. bryonic death, mummified fetuses, re-
chronized breeding/lambing, and preg- duced birth weight, and neonatal
nancy diagnosis. A few would bene- Ram Selection survival (10).
fit from artificial insemination (Al) More attention should be given to Infectious epididymitis (Brucella
or embryo transfer technology. In each ram selection. The reproductively su- ovis, Actinobacillus seminus, Histo-
case, cost-effectiveness must be kept perior ram will breed more ewes, philus ovis) can be diagnosed in most
in mind. which will have an improved first cases by careful palpation for abnor-
service conception rate, a lower early malities of the testicles and tails of
Breed Selection embryonic death rate, and an improved the epididymides (3, 10). Other ven-
A sound breeding program, chosen lambing rate with fewer weak or un- eral diseases (e.g. Ureaplasma spp.)
with the long term goals of the pro- dersized lambs (1, 2). Producers some- are diagnosed with microbial cultures
ducer in mind, is based on a ewe times forget that the ram contributes of semen (1 1).
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When possible, semen evaluation and detect return to estrus in prematurely; a second silent ovula-
should be used as the final measure nonpregnant ewes. Prior to being tion occurs and a new CL develops
of reproductive potential or disease. surgically altered (vasectomy or epi- resulting in a fertile estrus in 17 days
Semen parameter repeatability, espe- didymectomy) rams should be care- (25-30 days from teasing) (13) (Fig-
cially when collected by electro- fully selected for libido and pre- ure 2).
ejaculation, can be low, so rams with ferably chosen from breeds with an Improvements in synchrony result
unsatisfactory ejaculates should be re- extended breeding season (Dorset, from the injection of 20 mg of pro-
collected and reevaluated. A com- Finnish Landrace). Teasers will gesterone-in-oil at the time of ram
plete evaluation is recommended (pH, breed ewes, and so should be free of introduction. The number of ewes ex-
concentration, motility, morphology, venereally-transmitted diseases. periencing CL failure is reduced re-
admixed cells, microbial cultures) Neutered males or ewes are suitable sulting in up to 90% synchrony of
however a simplified field assessment teasers following three to five weekly ewes in estrus at days 19-21 from
is usually quite reliable to cull prob- injections of 100 mg of testosterone ram introduction (16).
lem rams, when used in conjunction proprionate. Male activity will con- Increased ovulation rates have been
with testicular palpation and measure- tinue for five to eight weeks (12). reported from ewes stimulated by
ments. An inexpensive low-power In order for the teaser to be effec- teasers especially in conjunction with
field microscope can be used to sub- tive, it must be suddenly introduced induced cycles (13). Teasers wearing
jectively assess concentration and mo- to ewes that have not had ram con- a marking harness are useful to de-
tility (waves and eddies) and detect tact for at least four weeks. Only 48 tect estrus and, if the marking crayon
the presence of neutrophils; rams with hours of teasing is required to in- color is changed every 17 days, it
inflammatory cells in semen are culled crease serum leuteinizing hormone lev- becomes a reasonably reliable test for
(7). Semen can then be preserved in els in ewes. Response is reported to nonpregnancy (1, 16).
buffered formalized saline or gluter- be better with morning teasing (13,
aldehyde and transported to a labora- 14). A variable pattern of response Pregnancy Diagnosis
tory for further analysis (Figure 1). occurs; all ewes ovulate without es- Knowing the pregnancy status of ewes
trus within three to five days, fol- has obvious advantages. It is the only
lowed in some by the development true measure of flock fertility and
Use of Teaser Rams of normal corpora lutea (CL) and a allows for proper organization of feed,
Teaser rams are useful to advance the fertile estrus in 17 days (20 days from labor, and facilities. Unexpectedly
breeding season, synchronize ewes, teasing) (15). In others the CL fails pregnant ewes often develop preg-
nancy toxemia from poor nutrition,
or dystocia and fetal death from poor
Physcial examination
lambing supervision, especially in bad
Libido weather or with inadequate housing.
Social Behavior Ballotment of the fetuses can be a
useful technique from day 120; weekly
palpation for udder development can
Palpatio01on Testicles and Epididymides be a guide during late gestation.
A-mode (doppler or sonar type) ul-
cull trasound systems are widely used and
Abnormal are reliable from day 50 (17). Realtime
MIt,easure Scrotal Circumference
ultrasound systems are reliable rec-
tally from day 25 (5 MHz trans-
Cull 7/
ducer) and through the flank from
day 35 (3 MHz transducer) (18), lamb
numbers can be determined from day
40 (19, 20). Used human ultrasound
Semen Evaluation-Concentration,
Motility, Neutrophils
systems are becoming more available
and require little or no adaptation for
use in sheep.
Induction of Estrus During
Repeat Semen Evalua3tion
Semen Morphology
Estrus induction during anestrus en-
ables a ewe to lamb three or more
Brucela CF times in two years. As well, produc-
Abnormal ing lambs out-of-season and finish-
Sero positive ing market lambs in larger and more
even groups can improve profits.
/Breed The induction of synchronized es-
trus during seasonal anestrus is widely
CuB practised. Progesterone-impregnated
Figure 1. Ram breeding soundness evaluation. vaginal pessaries (Veramex, Tuco,
Can Vet J Volume 28, No. 6 June 1987
can deposit semen laparoscopically
SILENT HEATS FIRST ESTRUS into the uterus in less than ten min-
utes, with fertility up to 80% for fresh
and 70% for frozen semen (2, 27).
CD) In Australia, frozen semen has been
o w

laparoscopically inseminated into thou-
40-60% EWES HAVE PREMATURE REGRESSION CL cA sands of ewes. At the present time
~~~~~~~~~0 this is the only practical way to over-
come the cervical barrier to improve
< ~~~~~~~~~~~wconception rates using frozen semen.
The ewe's complex cervix also pre-
vents practical nonsurgical embryo
transfer; however, embryos can be
1 3 5 7 17 19 21 23 25 surgically recovered from a super-
ovulated ewe in 20 minutes or less
40-60% EWES HAVE NORMAL CL and transferred surgically in 15 min-
utes or laparoscopically in ten min-
Figure 2. A schematic diagram of the time after ram introduction the onset of ovulatory utes (27). An average of about six
and estrous activity and the premature regression of the corpus luteum (13).
good quality embryos can be collected
per flush. Ewes can be flushed mul-
Orangeville, Ontario) inserted for 12 turition beginning at 36 hours and tiple times and still conceive to
to 14 days with the administration of finishing in a further 36 hours fol- future natural service (28). Sheep em-
500 I.U. of pregnant mares serum lowing administration (1). This re- bryos can be frozen or can be bi-
gonadotropin (PMSG) (Equinex, duces the normal variation in lambings sected, producing genetically identi-
Ayerst, Montreal, Quebec) at the time and improves opportunity for super- cal lambs in much the same fashion
of pessary withdrawal is followed by vision. Estradiol is effective but gen- as cattle embryos (29, 30).
estrus in 48 hours (21). Teaser rams erally unavailable to practitioners,
introduced at time of pessary removal while prostaglandins are only effec- Recent Innovations
may improve fertility and ovulation tive on the due day and as such have Products designed to further manipu-
rates (13, 22). Ram-to-ewe ratio must little value for a management pro- late reproduction in sheep are enter-
be low (1:10) for good anestrus fer- gram (25). ing the marketplace in Europe,
tility. Australia, and New Zealand. A com-
Well-managed ewes should expe- Biotechnology mercial anti-androstenedione vaccine
rience fertility rates approaching nor- (Fecundin, Galako, U.K.) used to de-
mal single service conception rates The introduction of superior genetics
has greatly improved production in crease ovarian-pituitary feedback, can
the cattle industry. With the wide base increase ovulation rate 25-50% un-
of genetic potential in sheep, similar der certain conditions (31). Well-
Estrus Synchronization gains are possible. If genetic superi- managed ewes, properly conditioned
During the breeding season, cycling ority of an individual ram or ewe for breeding, do not appear to re-
ewes can be readily synchronized for can be demonstrated the ability ex- spond with as large an increase in
group breeding (1). The use of teaser ists to greatly increase its impact on ovulation rate as do ewes under range
rams, can be effective as discussed. or less ideal conditions, possibly re-
future generations of replacements.
As during anestrus, the use of vagi- Artificial insemination has been ducing its value for most Canadian
nal progestagen pessaries, with 300 practised for many years in major producers. At present there is not in-
I.U. of PMSG, is effective. Prosta- sheep producing countries (26). In terest on the part of theinmanufacturer
glandin (cloprostenol 100 ,ug, dina- Ontario, United Breeders has devel- to Melatonin market the product Canada.
prost 8 mg) produces 60% synchrony oped a fresh semen Al program sup- mone is the pineal gland hor-
with one injection; two injections 11 produced
ported by the Ontario Ministry of appears to be responsible during dark hours and
days apart produces almost 100% syn- for the reg-
Agriculture and Food and is examin- ulation of the effects of daily photo-
chrony (1). Conception rates may be ing the potential for the use of fro- period on reproduction, triggering the
below normal following the use of zen semen. Artificial insemination can
prostaglandin but will improve at the change from seasonal anestrus to the
be performed using fresh semen (up ovulatory period (32). Daily admin-
next estrus (23). Norgestamet (Syn- to 5 hours), extended chilled semen
chromate B, Syntex, Malton, Ontario), istration of exogenous melatonin to
(1-2 days), or frozen semen. The anestrus ewes advances the breeding
a progestagen ear implant used in cat- complex anatomy of the ovine cer-
tle, may also be useful to synchro- season. Melatonin feed additives are
vix prevents transcervical uterine under trial in Australia and show
nize sheep at half the cattle dose (24). insemination, a requirement for sat- promise as a means of controlling
isfactory fertility using Al in all spe- seasonality of breeding(33).
Induction of Parturition cies. Depositing semen into the cer-
Inductin of parturition is possible in vical os is easily done and results in
sheep with known breeding dates. fertility rates of about 50% for fresh, Breeding Management
Dexamethansone (15 mg), adminis- 40% for chilled, and 25% for frozen Producers must be reminded that short-
tered at day 142 or 143, induces par- semen. With experience, an operator cuts in basic sheep husbandry will

Volume 28, No. 6 June 1987


376 Can
Can Vet J Volume
Vet J 28, No. 6 June 1987
negate the potential benefits prom- References 19. WHITE IR, RUSSEL AJ. Determination
ised by the use of newer technology. of fetal numbers in sheep by real-time
Unlike cattle, sheep cannot be "eye- 1. GORDON I. Controlled breeding of sheep. ultrasound scanning. In Practice 1984;
In: Controlled breeding of farm animals. 11:200-205.
balled". A "hands on" method of Willowdale, Ontario: Permagon Press, 1983. 20. FAWLER DG, WILKINS JF. Diagnosis
condition scoring is essential and 2. MEMON M. Male infertility. Vet Clin of pregnancy and number of fetuses in
should be used regularly to assess North Am 1983; 5: 619-632. sheep by real-time ultrasonic imaging. I.
the ewe flock. Particular attention 3. WALKER R, LEAMASTER B, STELL- Effects of number of fetuses, stage of ges-
FLUG J, BIBERSTEIN E. Association tations, operator and breed of ewe on ac-
must be paid to nutrition of ewes and of age with the distribution of epididymal curacy of diagnosis. Anim Prod Sci 1984;
rams bred during anestrus. Nutritional lesions and etiologic agent. J Am Vet Med 11:437-450.
"flushing" for three weeks prior to Assoc 1986; 4:393-396. 21. EVANS G, ROBINSON TJ. The control
breeding can increase ovulation and 4. NOTER DR, LUCAS JR, McCLOU- of fertility in sheep: endocrine and ovar-
lambing rates. Legume pastures or GHERTY FS. The accuracy of estima- ian responses to progestogen - PMSG
tion of testits weight from in-situ testis treatment in the breeding season and in
hay should not be overfed during measures in ram lambs. Theriogenology anestrus. J Agric Sci Camb 1980;
flushing or breeding as plant estro- 1981; 15:227-232. 94:69-88.
gens can reduce ovulation by 20% 5. MICKELSEON DW, PAISLEY LG, JE- 22. PEARCE DT, OLDHAM CM, GRAY SJ.
and decrease fertility by altering the ROME J. The effect of scrotal circumfer- Progestogens, PMSG and the "ram ef-
ence, sperm motility and morphology in fect" after artificial insemination in spring
viscosity of cervical mucus (1, 34). the ram on conception rates and lambing to synchronized non-pregnant ewes. Anim
In countries with large acreages of percentage in the ewe. Theriogenology Reprod Sci 1986; 10:117-123.
high estrogen pastures, experiments 1981; 2:233-236. 23. HENDERSON D. Control of breeding sea-
are underway with vaccines to counter 6. McNEILLY JR, FORDYCE M, LAND son in sheep and goats. In Practice 1985;
with the negative effects of plant es- RB, LEE GJ, WEBB R. Endocrine dif- 6:118-124.
ferences in rams after genetic selection 24. AINSWORTH L. Effects of norgestomet-
trogens on fertility (35). for testis size. J Reprod Fertil 1986; implants and fluorogesterone acetate im-
Sheep are sensitive to stress. Ex- 76:131-140. pregnated sponges on oestrus-cycle length
cessive handling at breeding time can 7. OTT R, MEMMON M. Society for The- and luteal function of ewes. Anim Reprod
reduce conception rates; stress dur- riogenology Sheep and Goat Manual, 1980. Sci 1985; 9:63-73.
mg early gestation results in fetal death MEN JJ. Sexual variations in scrotal cir- AGE NC, STEWART DMK. The effect
(1). cumference, sperm quality, and sexual abil- of season and technique on synchronized
As in all livestock production sys- ity in rams. J Am Vet Med Assoc 1982; and induced estrus and the induction of
tems, accurate records are essential 4:376-379. lambing in the ewe in a commercial set-
to identify problems and monitor prog- 9. BUCKRELL BC, McEWEN SA, JOHN- ting. Theriogenology 1983; 5:665-675.
SON WH, SAVAGE NC. Epididymitis 26. MAXWELL WMC. Current problems and
ress. Indices such as first service con- caused by Brucella ovis in a southern On- future potential of artificial insemination
ception rate, late or early returns to tario sheep flock. Can Vet J 1985; programs. In: Reproduction in sheep.
service, lambing rates, neonatal death 26:293-296. Lindsay DR, Pearce DT, eds. New York:
rates, pregnancy rates, and abortion 10. BURGESS GW. Ovine contagious epidi- Cambridge Press, 1984.
dymitis: a review. Vet Microbiol 1982; 27. WALKER SK, SMITH DH, LITTLE DL.
rates are required to measure repro- 7:551-575. Artificial insemination and transfer of em-
ductive performance and are easily 11. LIVINGSTON CW, GAUER BB. Effect bryos by laparoscopy. In: Reproduction
obtained when using synchronized of veneral transmission of ovine ureaplasma in Sheep. Lindsay DR, Pearce DT, eds.
breeding programs. Reproductive per- on reproductive efficiency of ewes. Am J New York: Cambridge Press, 1984.
Vet Res 1981; 4:1190-1194. 28. BUCKRELL BC, GARTLEY C. Work in
formance of the individual ewe can 12. FULKERSON WJ, ADAMS NR, progress.
best be rated by comparison to its GHERADI PB. Ability of castrate male 29. GATICA R, BOLAND MP, CROSBY TF,
peers (i.e. ewes of the same age un- sheep treated with estrogen or testoster- GORDAN 1. Micromanipulation of sheep
der the same conditions). one to induce and detect estrus in ewes. morula to produce monozygotic twins.
Appl Anim Ethol 1981; 7:57-66. Theriogenology 1984; 4:555-560.
13. KNIGHT TW. Ram induced stimulation 30. TERBIT HR, GOOLD PG. Deep-freezing
of ovarian and estrous activity in anestrus sheep embryos. Theriogenology 1984;
Conclusion ewes - a review. Proc NZ Soc Anim
Prod 1983; 43:1-11.
In recent years raising sheep for "fun 14. MARTIN GB, COGNIE Y, SCHIRAR A, FORDYCE M, FOSTER J. Improvement
and profit" has resulted in an increase NUNES-RIBEIRO A, FABRE-NYS C, of sheep fecundity by treatment with an-
in the number of full and part-time THIERY J. Diurnal variation in the re- tisera to gonadal steriods. J Reprod Fertil
producers. Many have learned that sponse of anestrus ewes to the ram ef- 1982; 60:625-634.
fect. J Reprod Fertil 1985; 75:275-284. 32. ARENDT J, SYMOUS AM, LAIRD CA,
in a well-managed flock, reproduc- 15. KNIGHT TW, TERVITr HR, FAIR- PRYDE SJ. Melatonin can induce early
tion can be manipulated to produce CHLOUGH RJ. Corpus luteum function onset of the breeding season in ewes. En-
lambs with efficiencies in labor, fa- in ewes stimulated by rams. Therio- docrinology 1983; 97:395-400.
cilities, and local market conditions. genology 1981; 15:2:183-186. 33. WILLIAMS HH. The effect of feeding
The effort and costs of such manipu- 16. PEARCE DT, MARTIN GB, OLDHAM melatonin during late summer on the on-
CM. Corpora lutea with a short life-span set of the breeding season of sheep. Br
lations benefit our best producers; induced by rams in seasonally anovula- Vet J 1984; 140:407.
however, the average producer would tory ewes are prevented by progesterone 34. ADAMS NR, TANG BY Changed con-
benefit first from improving husbandry delaying the preovulatory surge of LH. J trol of cervical secretion from infertile ewes
practices according to management Reprod Fertil 1985; 75:79-84. previously exposed to estrogenic clover
17. WATT BR, ANDERSON GA, CAMP- pasture. J Reprod Fertil 1986; 76:
goals. Natural methods of reproduc- BELL IP. A comparison of six methods 147-152.
tive improvement (breed selection, used for detecting pregnancy in sheep. 35. LITTLE DL, COX RI, WALKER SK,
teaser rams, culling inferior rams) Aust Vet J 1984; 12:377-382. FLAVEL PF. Effect of steroid immuniza-
should be applied, with hormonal ma- 18. BUCKRELL BC, BONNETT B, JOHN- tion on clover induced infertility in sheep.
SON WH. The rectal use of realtime ul- In: Reproduction in sheep. Lindsay DR,
nipulation acting as an adjunct for trasound for early pregnancy diagnosis in Pearce DT, eds. New York: Cambridge
further improvements. sheep. Theriogenology 1985; 5: 121-130. Press, 1984.
Can Vet J Volume 28, No. 6 June 1987 377