Patterns of late embryonic and fetal mortality and association with several factors in sheep

A. B. Dixon, M. Knights, J. L. Winkler, D. J. Marsh, J. L. Pate, M. E. Wilson, R. A. Dailey, G. Seidel, E. K. Inskeep

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Embryonic and fetal mortality reduce lambing rates and litter sizes, thus contributing to economic losses in the sheep industry. In the current study, the timing of late embryonic and fetal loss in ewes and the factors with which these losses were associated were examined. Ewes lambing and lambs born were compared with pregnancy diagnosis and counts of embryos by ultrasonography near d 25, 45, 65, or 85 of gestation. Approximately 19.9% of the ewes experienced late embryonic loss, fetal loss, or both; and 21.2% of the embryos or fetuses were lost from d 25 to term. Potential offspring were lost throughout gestation; 3.7% of embryos from d 25 to 45, 4.3% of fetuses from d 45 to 65, 3.3% from d 65 to 85, and 11.5% from d 85 to parturition; thus, approximately 3 to 4% of the potential offspring were lost for each 20-d period of pregnancy beyond d 25. A greater proportion of ewes lost one (36.7%) rather than all (20.5% single; 3.8% multiple) embryos or fetuses. The patterns of loss were similar in ewes mated during the anestrous season and the transitional period and did not vary with service period within breeding season or method of synchronization of estrus. Late embryonic or fetal losses were not related to the temperature-humidity index. Maternal serum collected near d 25, 45, 65, or 85 of gestation was assayed for concentrations of progesterone, estradiol-17β, and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The proportions of embryos or fetuses lost were associated with breed type (P < 0.05), as were concentrations of progesterone (P < 0.01), estradiol (P < 0.05), and VEGF (P < 0.01). The relationships of loss or retention of pregnancy to hormonal variables at the 4 stages studied were limited. Complete and partial losses increased rapidly as maternal progesterone at d 25 decreased below 2 ng/mL (P < 0.05). Survival of fetuses within a litter from d 25 to 65 was greater for ewes with medium concentrations of VEGF near d 25 and from d 65 to parturition was greater for ewes with high concentrations of VEGF near d 45 (P < 0.05). In summary, late embryonic or fetal losses occurred from d 25 throughout gestation and varied with breed type and with concentrations of progesterone in maternal serum on d 25.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1274-1284
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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