Sheep that are sheared more often during pregnancy are less stressed and give birth to lambs with more valuable wool, study reveals
- Twice-trimmed sheep have lower stress levels during pregnancy, scientists say
- That lowers the risk of reproductive failure and reduced wool quality
- The sheep shorn more often were also more social and grazed more
- The benefits extended to their lambs, who had higher-quality wool
Everyone feels better after a good haircut, sheep included.
Ewes that are sheared more often are happier and produce lambs with better wool, according to a new study.
Researchers from Australia’s University of Queensland say Merino ewes who are trimmed twice during pregnancy, rather than the typical once, have higher wool productivity.
The team found lower levels of cortisol, a major stress hormone, in the wool of pregnant ewes who had gotten buzzed twice.
The animals were also observed to be more active—grazing and socializing much more often than the control group.
As a bonus, their offspring had higher quality wool than lambs from sheep only shorn once.
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Sheep that are shorn twice during pregnancy have lower stress levels, which decreases the chance of reproductive failure, suppressed immune systems, reduced wool quality and other problems
‘This is a win-win for farmers and sheep, and we’re hoping that this practice will become standard across the industry,’ said Edward Narayan, an animal science professor with UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Science.
‘There’s been anecdotal evidence that shearing ewes early in their pregnancy resulted in higher wool productivity, but we wanted to see how it affected the animal.’
‘While shearing is an acutely stressful activity for the animal, our study reveals that it significantly reduces the ewe’s long-term stress. The evidence was in the wool itself.’
According to an industry report funded by Australian Wool Innovation, Narayan analyzed the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in wool samples from two groups of pregnant merino ewes.
Researchers at the University of Queensland found twice-trimmed sheep were also more social and gave birth to lambs with better quality, more valuable wool
The control group had only been shorn once during pregnancy, the industry standard, while an experimental group was trimmed twice.
‘Cortisol is a major stress hormone and prolonged stress is known to negatively influence growth, development and reduce body mass,’ Narayan said. ‘The hormone is incorporated into the wool through the blood vessels at a slow pace, and this reflects the stress that the sheep goes through on a farm.’
Tracking changes in sheep via their wool is a lot easier and less invasive than taking blood or stool samples, he added.
In a 2019 report in the Journal PLOS ONE, Narayan indicated it was even possible to tell if a ewe was pregnant through their wool, by examining the levels of cortisol and the sex hormone progesterone.
Narayan said it was ‘immediately clear’ after after analyzing the samples that the twice-sheared ewes had much lower cortisol levels over the long term.
Lower cortisol means less stress, and less stress means sheep are less likely to develop reproductive failure, suppressed immune systems, emaciation, reduced wool quality or other health issues.
The lack of a heavy wool coat allowed the pregnant ewes to frolic more freely.
Using smart tags, Narayan’s team was able to track the sheep in the normal course of their day and saw the twice-shorn ones grazed more and interacted with other sheep more often.
And the benefits were passed down to their offspring: Lambs born to twice-shorn moms had finer wool microns and better quality comfort scores.’
‘Their wool was simply more valuable,’ Narayan said.