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Mother–young bonding in prolific D’man and Romanov sheep

Research paper by Mohamed Chniter, Amel Dhaoui; Mohamed Hammadi; Touhami Khorchani; Mohamed Ben Hamouda; Pascal Poindron; Fabien Cornilleau; Fréderic Lévy; Raymond Nowak

Indexed on: 23 Nov '17Published on: 14 Jun '17Published in: Journal of Ethology



Abstract

The effect of prolificacy on mother–young mutual recognition is still largely unknown in sheep. The aim of the present study was to investigate the ability of prolific ewes to develop an exclusive bond with their neonate and to recognize each other from alien subjects. Observations were performed on 11 D’man and 16 Romanov ewes with, respectively, 19 and 37 of their lambs. Maternal selectivity was tested at 24 h postpartum during two consecutive periods of 3 min. All mothers accepted their own lambs at suckling, while 21 out of 27 (78%) rejected the alien, thus displaying mostly selective nursing. To assess mother–young recognition, a two-choice test was performed at 36 h postpartum. Ewes clearly preferred their own lambs to an alien lamb and behavioral differences were not found between mothers of small (singletons and twins) and large litters (triplets and quadruplets). Romanov ewes reached their own lambsmore rapidly and spent more time near them than D’man ewes. Lambs from small litters, in particular light lambs, clearly preferred their mothers to an alien dam; however, both light and heavy lambs in large litters did not discriminate between the two stimulus ewes. D’man lambs clearly preferred their mothers to an alien dam; in contrast, such a preference was not as clearly demonstrated in Romanov lambs. The effect of prolificacy on mother–young mutual recognition is still largely unknown in sheep. The aim of the present study was to investigate the ability of prolific ewes to develop an exclusive bond with their neonate and to recognize each other from alien subjects. Observations were performed on 11 D’man and 16 Romanov ewes with, respectively, 19 and 37 of their lambs. Maternal selectivity was tested at 24 h postpartum during two consecutive periods of 3 min. All mothers accepted their own lambs at suckling, while 21 out of 27 (78%) rejected the alien, thus displaying mostly selective nursing. To assess mother–young recognition, a two-choice test was performed at 36 h postpartum. Ewes clearly preferred their own lambs to an alien lamb and behavioral differences were not found between mothers of small (singletons and twins) and large litters (triplets and quadruplets). Romanov ewes reached their own lambsmore rapidly and spent more time near them than D’man ewes. Lambs from small litters, in particular light lambs, clearly preferred their mothers to an alien dam; however, both light and heavy lambs in large litters did not discriminate between the two stimulus ewes. D’man lambs clearly preferred their mothers to an alien dam; in contrast, such a preference was not as clearly demonstrated in Romanov lambs.