A new Australian study of sheep could help give aspiring parents insight into the impact stress has on the ability to conceive and whether or not the pregnancy is a happy one or not.
By analysing the breeding records of sheep in their study, researchers at The University of Western Australia (UWA) have discovered that happy female sheep had a higher ovulation rate and more successful pregnancies, writes Kit Mochan of ABC Rural.
The agricultural scientist who led the study, Dominique Blache, said our woolly fellow mammals could serve as a good model to better understand the impacts stress can have on women trying to fall pregnant.
“I think this is the first time we see a very clear correlation between temperament and calmness and ovulation,” Professor Blache said.
In 1990 the university selectively bred two very different lines of merino sheep on their research farm, Allandale, around 60 kilometres north-east of Perth.
One line was bred to have a calm disposition and the other line was bred to be nervous.
“We have actually calculated the irritability of temperament,” Professor Blache said.
After being approached by researchers from Uruguay, the sheep boffins decided to put the flock to use to try to understand the impact behavioural temperament had on sheep fertility.
The group looked at the reproductive rates and outcomes of 200 merino ewes who were artificially inseminated at the same time.
The results of the study, which were published in the journal Animal this week, found that ewes with calm temperaments weaned 10 to 19 per cent more lambs compared to their nervous cohorts.
And although their ovarian cycles matched, the calm sheep had higher ovulation rates and healthier embryos.
Despite good results, Professor Blache said farmers can not just rely on having a genetically blessed, easy-going mob to increase production.
He stressed environmental factors like early life experience, availability of food and handling also play a huge role.
“When I talk to the farming community I always say that temperament is a value added to the sheep … not a silver bullet that is going to give you two lambs for every single ewe,” Professor Blache said.