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Abstract

In female ungulates lactation carries a high energetic cost and mothers often devote more care to sons than to daughters. The aims of this study were to determine whether lactating bighorn ewes have higher foraging time, bite rate or selectivity of forage than barren ewes and whether reproductive status affects migration patterns. Ewes with male lambs were predicted to spend more time foraging and to have a higher bite rate than ewes with female lambs. There were no differences in foraging behavior according to ewe reproductive status from April to August. In September-November lactating ewes had a higher bite rate and spent more time foraging than nonlactating ewes but lamb gender did not affect foraging behavior. Lactating ewes gained less weight than nonlactating ones until mid-August; from mid-August to late September mass gain was similar for both groups of ewes. Nonlactating ewes spent more time standing but reproductive status did not affect vigilance behavior or step rate while foraging. Ewes with lambs did not differ from nonlactating ewes in step rate. Pregnant ewes migrated earlier than barren ewes to alpine areas in spring. By so doing they abandoned areas with good quality forage presumably to give birth in areas safer from predation. All ewes spent most of the summer in the alpine range but nonlactating ewes returned to the winter range earlier than lactating ewes, probably to profit from the abundant forage there.