More than just next winter’s woolly jumper, the luxurious wool of Merino sheep can also reveal whether a ewe is pregnant or not.
In a world-first discovery, researchers have found that pregnancy hormones work their way into a ewe’s fleece – replacing the need for intrusive testing and possibly helping farmers improve their breeding stock.
Previously, reproductive hormones in sheep could only be measured through costly and invasive blood plasma testing.
Researchers at Western Sydney University say having an easier and cheaper way to crack the fertility code has the potential to improve animal welfare and farmers alike by identifying the healthiest and most fertile ewes.
The team combed through wool samples to track the levels of cortisol and progesterone hormones in the fleece of first-time mums.
The University’s Dr Edward Narayan said a jump in both hormones was the equivalent of two blue lines we might see on a human pregnancy test.
“Pregnancy in merino ewes elicited significant increases in wool progesterone and cortisol levels,” Dr Narayan says.
“While the progesterone levels decreased significantly after birth, cortisol levels did not.”
The wool industry says having a simpler and more accurate way to track fertility in merino sheep opens up many new research avenues to further improve sheep health, welfare and productivity.
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