The behavioural, endocrine and leucocyte response of ...

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Title The behavioural, endocrine and leucocyte response of ewes to repeated removal of lambs before the age of natural weaning
Author(s) M. S. Cockram, P. Imlah, P. J. Goddard, G. D. Harkiss, N. K. Waran
Journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Date 1993
Volume 38
Issue 2
Start page 127
End page 142
Abstract The effect of repeated lamb removal on the blood leukocyte population of ewes was examined and the behavioural and endocrine responses to the stressor quantified. 12 ewes which had given birth to twins, were placed in separate pens with their lambs. After 13 days, the lambs (14-19 days old) from one group of 6 ewes (treatment group) were removed from the pens and placed in a pen 11 m from the nearest ewe. After 3 h the lambs were moved back to their dam. The lambs then remained with their dam for 3 h before being removed for a second period of 3 h. This procedure was repeated for 23 days. A control group of 6 ewes remained with their lambs continuously for the 24-day experimental period. The removal of lambs produced behavioural changes in the ewes. These included: orientation towards the lamb, vocalization, raised head, erect ears, and decreased lying and sleeping behaviours. Although these changes were present over the 24-day experimental period, there were signs of habituation after 3 days of the treatment. The endocrine responses to lamb removal were less marked. Some ewes showed a plasma cortisol and β-endorphin response on Day 1 of lamb removal, but the mean responses were little different from the control group. There was no obvious plasma prolactin response to the treatment. On Day 10 of lamb removal, the blood concentration of neutrophils in the treatment ewes had increased and the proportion of CD2 lymphocytes and T19 lymphocytes had decreased compared with that of control ewes. There were no significant differences between the treatment and control ewes in either the delayed type hypersensitivity skin responses to dinitrofluorobenzene or the humoral antibody responses to ovalbumin. It is suggested that ewes may show behavioural responses to repeated lamb removal but this stressor had no significant effect on the endocrine and immune measurements studied.

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