Two experiments were conducted to examine the effects of ram exposure during the breeding season, in combination with progestagen treatment on estrus synchronization, fertility the LH surge and ovulation in ewes. Experiment 1 was subdivided into experiments 1a and 1b. In all experiments cross-bred ewes were treated with an intravaginal sponge for 12-14 days and three days before sponge withdrawal ewes were divided into control (no further treatment; n=191, 103 and 50 for experiments 1a, 1b and 2, respectively) or ram exposed (three mature rams per 50 ewes were introduced; +Ram; n=187, 99 and 49 for experiments 1a, 1b and 2, respectively). At sponge withdrawal ewes in Experiments 1a and 2 received 500 IU eCG and rams were removed from all the +Ram groups. In Experiments 1a and 1b, raddled, entire rams were introduced to ewes 48 h after sponge withdrawal. The timing of mating was recorded and ewes were maintained until lambing. In Experiment 2, estrus behavior was determined every 4 h and the time of the LH surge and ovulation were determined from a subset of 10 ewes per group. In Experiment 1a, less +Ram ewes were bred by 48 h after ram introduction (control 98% versus +Ram 89%, P<0.001) and in Experiments 1a and 1b 14% fewer (P<0.05) of the ewes bred in the first 3 h after ram introduction lambed to that service. In Experiment 1a, ram exposed ewes had a lower litter size than control ewes (1.93+/-0.06 versus 1.70+/-0.06 lambs per ewe; P<0.05). In Experiment 2, rams advanced (P<0.05) estrus, the LH surge and ovulation by 2-6 h compared with control ewes. We speculate that exposure of ewes to rams increased LH secretion and that this in turn increased follicle development and the production of oestradiol that led to a more rapid onset of estrus, the LH surge and ovulation compared to control ewes. Unexpectedly, ewes that were bred had lower fertility in the +Ram groups than control groups.
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