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Reproductive response of fat-tailed Barbarine ewes subjected to short-term nutritional treatments including spineless cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica f. inermis) cladodes



Reproductive outputs in fat-tailed Barbarine sheep in central Tunisia are often low because of feed shortage and the low nutritive value of diets. Supplementation with conventional concentrates is economically unsuitable in central Tunisia, so more cost-effective and sustainable alternative feeding strategies need to be developed. We tested effects of short-term nutritional treatments including cactus cladodes during the induction of ‘male effect’ on fertility and prolificacy parameters (follicular growth, ovulatory response and early embryo losses). One hundred and twenty ewes were distributed in 4 equal groups balanced for live weight grazed natural pastures and were supplemented for 21 days, starting day 10 after introduction of rams, with cactus cladodes (CA), cactus cladodes and soybean meal (CAS), concentrate (CC) or only soybean meal (S). Nutritional treatment did not affect live weight in this experiment. Ewes receiving cactus had higher number of large pre-ovulatory follicles (≥6 mm; 1.08 ± 0.05), between days 14 and 19 after introduction of rams, than females in the CC and S ewes (0.64 ± 0.06; p < 0.05). However, there were no differences in the onset of oestrous behaviour in response to ‘male effect’ or in the number of corpora lutea. Average ovulation rates were 1.42 ± 0.16 for CC, 1.47 ± 0.13 for CAS, 1.31 ± 0.15 for CA and 1.31 ± 0.13 for S groups respectively. Finally, reproductive wastages at day 35 after mating were not different between groups being 0.33 ± 0.19 for CC, 0.60 ± 0.17 for CAS, 0.43 ± 0.16 for CA and 0.31 ± 0.15 for S groups respectively. It is concluded that Barbarine ewes fed nutritional treatments including cactus performed similarly to those receiving diets including conventional concentrate feeds.