Increased selenium in sheep diets can improve wool production in lambs
A lack of the nutrient selenium in sheep diets can result in lamb loss, white muscle disease, reduced growth and other health problems. Giving sheep selenium supplements during gestation is common in the sheep industry to improve lamb production and meat quality. To further understand the effects of selenium on wool production, researchers at North Dakota State University recently studied the consequences of feeding increased amounts of selenium to pregnant ewes. Their results were published in the latest issue of the Journal of Animal Science.
Similar to humans, pregnant sheep transfer ingested nutrients to their offspring.
Adding large amounts of selenium to pregnant sheep diets allowed the researchers to study whether added selenium affected lamb wool production and development of wool follicles. According to the authors article, this was the first research focused on wool production of lambs born to ewes fed increased amounts of selenium.
In an interview, co-authors Drs. Kim Vonnahme and Reid Redden, said the increase of selenium in maternal diets improves many of the qualities of the wool of six-month-old female lambs, such as fiber follicle development and staple (fiber) length upon shearing.
Typically, a longer fiber length upon shearing means reduced wool quality. However, Redden, a sheep specialist at North Dakota State University, said the greater amounts of selenium inclusion in maternal diets resulted in a longer fiber length without affecting wool quality.
“A longer staple length when shearing results in more wool sheared,” Redden said.
The balance between offspring wool development and production with maternal diets is a new area of research in the sheep industry. Vonnahme and Redden said this type of information will prove valuable for both researchers and industry professionals.
Vonnahme, an NDSU associate professor also collaborated with NDSU scientist Dr. Joel Caton to study the nutrition of newborn sheep. Vonnahme said follicle development in newborn sheep still occurs during the first few weeks after birth. Because feed intake during this period influences wool growth, lambs used in the experiment were allowed to eat as much as they pleased.
“The increased comfort factor of the fiber is very much linked to nutrients ingested at birth,” Vonnahme said.
And that “comfort factor” is very important for producers who want the softest wool possible.
The study was titled “Maternal nutrition during pregnancy influences offspring wool production and wool follicle development.” It can be read in full at http://journalofanimalscience.org/
ASAS Scientific Communications Associate
MadelineMS@asas.org / 217-689-2435