Fetal programming by co-twin rivalry in sheep

J. Casellas, G. Caja

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8 Citations (Scopus)


Fetal rivalry for space and nutrients compromises intrauterine environment and fetal growth, this leading to further consequences during adult life (i.e., fetal programming). Focusing on sheep, relevant fetal programming effects have been revealed on body composition and growth although little is known about their potential impact on the reproductive performance of adult ewes. This research focused on the analysis of fetal programming-related effects on 41,475 litter size (LS) records from 7,177 purebred Ripollesa ewes. Fetal programming sources of variation accounted for the linear and quadratic effect of absolute birth BW (ABBW), relative birth BW (RBBW) of twin-born ewes (i.e., both magnitude and direction of the birth BW difference between the ewe and its co-twin), and sex of twin ewe's littermate (SLM). More specifically, data were analyzed under a threshold mixed model and the statistical relevance of models accounting for different combinations of ABBW, RBBW, and SLM effects was compared by Bayes factors (BF; i.e., the ratio between the posterior probability of 2 competing models). The model accounting for RBBW and discarding both ABBW and SLM effects was clearly preferred; its posterior probability was 35.2 to 362.3 times higher than from remaining models and provided very strong (31.6 < BF < 100) and decisive evidences (BF > 100) supporting the relevance of RBBW and the negligibility of both ABBW and SLM. Single-born ewes were included as reference group and they reached a predicted LS of 1.189 lambs per lambing. Twin-born ewes being >600 g lighter than their co-twins suffered from an impaired reproductive ability with 1.162 lambs per lambing (95% credible interval [95CI], 1.147 to 1.179), and this estimate increased until ewes were 151 to 300 g lighter than their co-twins (1.226 lambs per lambing; 95CI, 1.208 to 1.244). Remaining categories (i.e., ewes being heavier or equal than their cotwins) did not provide significant differences and showed an enhanced reproductive ability of approximately 1.23 lambs per lambing. These significant differences in LS highlighted the influence of fetal programming in sheep under rangeland conditions, which implies decisive economic consequences worldwide. Moreover, these results could contribute additional information on twin biology, which could be useful in other mammalian species such as humans. © 2014 American Society of Animal Science. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-71
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Birth weight
  • Fetal programming
  • Litter size
  • Ripollesa sheep


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