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Nutritional effects of supplementary feeding on maternal blood metabolites, cortisol, thyroid hormones levels and on outcome of pregnancy of dry season kidding Tswana goats

O R Madibela* and B V E Segwagwe**

Sebele Station, Department of Agricultural Research, P/Bag 0033, Gaborone. Botswana
*Present address:  Agriculture and Life Science Division, P. O. Box 84, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, Canterbury, New Zealand   ;
**Department of Animal Science and Production, Botswana College of Agriculture, P/Bag 0027, Gaborone. Botswana


The nutritional effects on maternal blood metabolites levels and outcome of pregnancy in goats were investigated. The supplementary diet (106g/kg crude protein) was given to S animals at a rate of 400g/animal/d. Two weeks prior to and at parturition, S (Supplemented) does were heavier (P<0.05) and were in better (P<0.001) body condition than C (Control) animals.


Eighty-nine percent of S animals kidded including abortions, while the value was 79 for C animals, however the difference was not significant (P>0.05). Prolificacy was higher for S but was not significantly different (P>0.05; 1.93±0.17 versus 1.64±0.18kid/doe for S and C respectively). Percentage reproductive wastage was lower (P<0.05) in S than C group. Birth weights were similar between S and C animals (P>0.05; 2.70±0.11 and 2.60±0.13kg). A significant (P<0.05) difference was recorded on the concentrations of cholesterol, haematocrit, triiodothyronine (T3) and tetraiodothyronine (T4) (P<0.01) between the groups, S animals having high values than C animals.


It is discussed that infectious agents were not a prime cause of reproductive wastage. Kid viability at birth contributed to reproductive wastage and difference in T3 and T4 may be involved but not cortisol. Supplementary feeding of pregnant goats grazing natural pasture during the dry season can offset the detrimental effects of maternal nutritional stress and therefore reducing reproductive wastage. 

Key words: Abortions; body condition; dry season; nutritional stress; reproductive wastage


Tswana goat is a meat-type indigenous breed and was reported by Senyatso and Masilo (1996) to account for 80% of the national goats’ population. The need to improve productivity of Tswana goat is emphasized by the fact that this animal holds promise to increase smallholder incomes and household nutrition. Past government policies to improve small ruminant productivity included Financial Assistant Policy (FAP) to cover small ruminant projects. However, the anticipated increased productivity was never realised, mainly due to low level of husbandry and feeding management (Letsebe et al 1999)


Past studies (APRU 1987, Gray 1987, APRU 1989 and Madibela et al 2002) reported frequency of twinning in Tswana goat of 50% and this has been associated with rapid increases in goat numbers. In addition short gestation period means that meat production can be realized in a relatively shorter period of time. However, nutrition plays a major role in the attainment of genetic potential for reproduction and growth. Reproductive wastage in terms of abortion, fetal loss and neonatal loss undermine productivity of goats in Botswana. There are reports of abortion and foetal loss in goats elsewhere (Hussain et al 1996a, Hussain et al 1996b, Engeland et al 1997, Romero-M et al 1998, and Engeland et al 1998). In Botswana, abortion storms occur during the winter months, (Binta et al 1996) which coincide with the dry season. Though infectious causes have been found in aborting goats, these accounted for only 10% (Binta et al 1998a) and 23% (Binta et al 1998b) of the total number of animals aborting. According to Binta et al (1996), several infectious and non-infectious factors may be responsible for causing abortions in goats in Botswana, but the majority of the abortion cases have never been explained. Few cases of abortions are caused by infectious agents in Norwegian dairy goats, (Hussain et al 1996a, Hussain et al 1996b) and Engeland et al (1997) suggested that nutritional and environmental factors might be important. Ahmadu (1996) reported incidents of abortion in Zaria area of Northern Nigeria and attributed it to improper feeding of goats during pregnancy. Underfeeding leads to nutritional stress and may affect hormonal secretion associated with metabolisms. There is lack of information on the effects of nutrition on the extent of reproductive wastage, cortisol and thyroid hormones in Tswana goats in Botswana. Therefore present study investigated the nutritional effects on maternal blood metabolites, cortisol and thyroid hormones levels and on the outcome of pregnancy of dry season kidding Tswana goats.


Materials and methods 

Location of study


The study was conducted at Sebele Station which is situated at latitude of 24o 33'S and longitude 25o 57' E, at an altitude of 994 m a.s.l. The vegetation type of the area has previously been described by Madibela et al (2000). Grass quality and quantity fluctuate with season, being adequate in months of October-March (ONDJFM) and in short supply or low in quality in April-September (AMJJAS), when browse supplies most nutrient requirements of goats. Data for rainfall and temperature for Sebele were collected from Botswana Meteorology Services weather station located approximately 0.5km from the study site. Mean rainfall for the area is 500mm. Monthly average minimum and maximum temperature is 12.8 and 28.6oC respectively.


Experimental animals and treatments


Thirty-seven Tswana goats (3-6 years of age) divided into two groups; (C; mean±SE 38.8±0.9kg, n=19) and (S; 39.8±0.9, n=18) were used in a trial that commenced in May 2000. The animals had previously kidded in January and kids were weaned at the end of April. The animals were cared for according to International Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Animals (CIOMS 1985). They were treated for internal parasites (Ivomec®, Logos Agvet; Republic of South Africa). A plunge dip was use for tick control (9%v/v chlorfenvinphos concentrate, Agricura, Republic of South Africa) only when infestation was observed. The supplementary diet has been used previously for breeding goats (Madibela et al 2002) Chemical composition of the supplementary feed and its estimated nutrient supply is shown on Table 1.

Table 1.  Gross energy, chemical composition and estimated nutrient intake/animal/d from the supplemented feed at the start and two weeks prior to parturition

Chemical composition

Nutrient intake, g

Nutrient intake, g







GE, MJ/kg DM






CP, g/kg DM






Ca, g/kg DM






P, g/kg DM






ADF, g/kg DM






GE = Gross energy; CP = Crude protein; Ca = calcium; P = phosphorous; ADF = acid detergent fibre

Estimated nutrient intake at the start of trial

Estimated nutrient intake two weeks prior to parturition

Goats feed intake is about 4% of their body weight (Kadzere et al 1996); so at the start of the trial it was assumed that S animals were consuming 1.2kg from grazing while 0.4kg was provided by the supplement. C animals were assumed to be getting the whole of their 1.6 kg feed intake from grazing. The animals were accompanied by bucks during grazing (one buck to 25 does), as is the case in the communal farming system of Botswana. Due to the poor grazing conditions which lead to decline in body condition of the animals two weeks prior to parturition, feed for the S group (body condition score, BCS = 2.83 on a 1 to 5 scale, where 1=thin, 5=fat as per Karua 1990) was increased from about 400 to 750g/animal/d while the C group (condition score =1.89) were offered 600g/animal/d of feed to avoid unnecessary suffering by the animals. Data records included monthly BCS, live weights and birth weights. The numbers of does that delivered, fetal loss and kid mortality were recorded.


Blood sampling and processing


Blood was collected from five animals selected at random and sampled from each of the two treatments during the last two weeks of pregnancy. Each doe was bled by jugular vein puncture and blood collected in heparin coated and into plain vacutainers. The blood was centrifuged at 3000 x g for 10 minutes and plasma was harvested, stored at -20oC until analysed for triiodothyronine (T3), tetraiodothyronine (T4) and cortisol. Serum was harvested from blood samples from plain tubes by allowing them to stand for one hour at room temperature. Serum was used in analysis for total protein, albumin, calcium, phosphorous, copper, zinc, urea, cholesterol, triglycerides.


Analysis for hormones


Thyroid hormone concentrations were determined with commercial kits. T3 and T4 concentrations were measured in duplicate by solid phase 125I radioimmunoassy according to the manufacturer’s instructions (Diagnostic Products Corporation, Los Angeles, CA, USA). The radioactivity of teraiodothyronine- and triiodothyronine-bound tubes was counted with a gamma counter, as previously described (Chopra 1972).  Cortisol was determined using a solid phase technique GammaCoat 125I cortisol radioimmunoassay kit (DiaSorin, Stillwater, Minnesita, USA). The procedure is based on the competitive binding principles and a gamma counter was used to estimate cortisol levels, as previously described (Rehbinder and Hau 2006).


Biochemical analysis


Serum samples were taken to the National Veterinary Laboratory (Gaborone, Botswana) where they were analysed for copper, zinc (UV spectrophotometry), total protein, albumin, calcium, phosphorous, urea, cholesterol and triglycerides (Automatic chemical analyzer) according to methods described by Mushi et al (1998). Globulin was calculated as a difference between total protein and albumin. Haematocrit analysis was done using standard haematological procedures.


Statistical analysis


General linear models (GLM) procedure (SAS Institute Inc. 1990) was used to determine the effects of supplementation on body weight, condition score and blood parameters. The effects of supplementation on pregnancy rate were evaluated by frequency analysis, using a Chi-square test (SAS Institute Inc. 1990). The Fisher Exact Test was used when the number of animals in a treatment category was less than five (Steel and Torrie 1980). Goats that did not give birth were excluded from the analysis of body weight and BCS at two weeks prior to parturition and at parturition and from analysis for reproductive wastage. GLM procedure (SAS Institute Inc. 1990) was also used to test the effects of supplementation on reproductive wastage including and then excluding animals whose kids and/or fetuses died due to infectious cause. Effects of supplementation on birth weight of kid, and correlations between doe parturition weight and kid birth weight were tested. Because of low numbers of kids born as singles this test was also repeated without singles. One animal from the Control group died due to ingestion of plastic material and was found to be carrying twin fetuses, but was excluded from reproductive wastage analysis. One animal from the S group had an early abortion and only placental material was recovered but no infectious microorganism was isolated. This animal too was excluded from the analysis of body weight, BCS and reproductive wastage. Another animal from the S group sustained a fracture just before it gave birth and thus was not weighed at parturition. Reproductive wastage was defined as the number of fetuses that were aborted, born dead or kids that died during the first 24 hours, per doe.



The percentages of animal in S and C treatment groups which either gave birth or aborted were similar (P>0.05; Table 2).

Table 2.  Effect of supplementation on the outcome of mating and pregnancy of Tswana goats





No of goats at mating`




No of goats pregnant1




Pregnancy rate, %




No of goats aborted




No goats with dead foetuses




No of goats whose kids dead in first 24 hours




No of goats abortive microorganism isolated




Reproductive parameters




Prolificacy, kid/doe 3




Total Wastage, kid/doe4




Percentage Total wastage, %5




Wastage due to non-infectious causes, kid/doe

0.21±0.18 (n= 14)

0.62±0.19 n=13)


Percentage non-infectious wastage, %

8.4±0.1 (n= 14)

37.2±0.1 n=13)


1Parturiation was used as a sign of animal having conceived since neither ultrasonic nor progesterone were used to verify pregnancy.

2One animal died and was found to be carrying twin fetuses.

3Number of kids born and fetuses aborted per doe kidding

4Total reproductive wastage including infectious and non-infectious causes

5Expresses as 4/3 x 100

Toxoplasma gondii and  S. bovis were isolated in this aborted material.

SL = Significance level; NS = P>0.05; * = P<0.05

Of the two goats whose kids died within 24 hours in C group, the diagnosis was postnatal weakness leading to secondary septicaemia. However, for the three goats whose kids died within 24 hours in the S group, the diagnosis for one of them was purulent bronchopneumonia while the other two was inconclusive. One of the two goats that aborted in the C group had twin fetuses from which Toxoplasma gondii and Streptococcus bovis were isolated.

Prolificacy for S animals was similar (P>0.05) to that of C animals. Total reproductive wastage was not significantly (P>0.05) different between the two groups although it was lower for S than C animals. However, percentage total reproductive wastage was different (P<0.05; Table 2).


Birth weights were similar (P>0.05) between S and C animals. Multiples weighed lower (P<0.001) than singles.  Multiples kids in both S and C animals weighed similar (P>0.05). Kids born as singles had similar (P>0.05) weights at birth for S and C. Does parturition weight had a significant effect (P<0.001) on kid birth weights (Table 3).

Table 3.  Body weight and condition score of Tswana goats





At mating




Body weight, kg




Condition score1




At two weeks prior to parturition




Body weight, kg




Condition score




At parturition




Body weight, kg




1Condition score: 1= thin,  5 = fat, according to Karua (1990)

SL = Significance level; NS = P>0.05; * = P<0.05; *** = P<0.001

At mating, the two groups had similar body weight (P> 0.05) and body condition score (P> 0.05) for S and C animals (Table 3). However, two weeks prior to parturition S animals exhibited higher body weight (P<0.05) and high BCS (P<0.001) than C animals. At parturition S animals were still heavier (P<0.05) than C animals. Doe parturition weights of S (r=0.617, P<0.001) and C (r=0.550, P<0.05) were positively correlated to kid birth weight. However, when singles were removed from the analysis, doe parturition weight of S animals was highly correlated (r=0.756, P<0.001) to birth weight while correlation of doe parturition weight of C to birth weight was not significant (r=0.250, P>0.05).


Total protein, albumin, calcium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, urea, triglycerides and cortisol were similar (P>0.05) between the two groups (Table 4).

Table 4.  Blood parameter of Tswana goats at two weeks prior to parturition





Total protein, g/l




Albumin, g/l




Globulin, g/l




Calcium, mmol/l




Phosphorous, mmol/l




Copper, μmol/l




Zinc, μmol/l




Urea, mmol/l




Cholesterol, mmol/l




Triglycerides, mmol/l








T3, pmol/l




T4, nmol/l




Cortisol, nmol/l




T3 = triiodothyronine; T4 = tetraiodothyronine; SL = Significance level

NS = P>0.05; * = P<0.05; ** = P<0.01

A significant difference between S and C animals was observed on cholesterol, haematocrits, T3 (P<0.05) and T4 (P<0.01).



In Botswana, goats kidding during the later part of the dry season (August to September) would have been mated at the end of the wet season (April) when nutrition would be adequate for ovarian activities and this period also coincides with decrease in day length. Mating at this time means that the level of sexual activity is high and may result in multiple births. However, the rest of pregnancy goes through a period of shortage of nutrients especially at the last trimester when the fetus growth rate is high. As a result malnutrition may results in abortion in goats.


The insignificant and small difference between S and C animals in the proportion of goats that either gave birth or aborted (pregnancy rate) in the present study may be due to nutrition. Toxoplasma gondii has previously been associated with goats with a history of abortion in Botswana (Binta et al 1996, Binta et al 1998a). However, it is suggested that in the present study, infectious agents were not the prime cause of reproductive wastage. Previous data (Madibela et al 2002) with the same flock of animals showed that fertility and the proportion of animals that gave birth during the wet season was similar between the supplemented and control animals. If the ovarian activity of the animals in the present study was the same; the reduced pregnancy rate in C group would then be due to embryonic loss as the dry season progress.


The consistent twinning of 50% in Tswana goats (APRU 1987, APRU 1989, Madibela et al 2002) may be indicative of a genetic attribute of this breed. Prolificacy rate for S animals was close to 2 kids/doe and this may contribute substantially to farmer’s productivity. This indicates that if abortion and neonatal death are reduced, Tswana goats would have high productivity. When infectious causes were removed from the analysis, C animals still had high reproductive wastage. Lower body weight and BCS at two weeks prior to parturition and at parturition of C animals showed that when pregnant goats are undernourished, reproductive wastage would occur. Besides the problem of abortion due to undernutrition, neonates are weak and are susceptible to infection. In the present study kids from multiple births were weak at birth.


Lack of difference in kid birth weight indicate that the high dam liveweight and BCS of S animals did not benefit kid birth weights, which was consistent with findings of Madibela et al (2002). Doe parturition weight was positively correlated to birth weight of multiple born kids in S but not in C group. This is an unexpected finding since C animals were nutritionally stressed and they were expected to produce kids of low birth weight. This may be due to enhanced fetal growth as a result of stimulated placental growth and function when females are subjected to nutrient restriction at mid pregnancy (Robinson 1990, Wallace et al 1997, Perry et al 1999 and Robinson et al 1999).


Thyroid hormones concentrations are nutritionally sensitive (Rae et al 2002). In the present study the difference in the concentrations of thyroid hormones between the two groups may be associated with the difference in reproductive wastage. Manalu et al (1997) did not found difference in T3 between aborted goats and dams bearing single and twin kids. T3 was found to be high in non-pregnant, indicating that the increase in T3 was not related to pregnancy (Manalu and Sumaryadi 1999). However, the reproductive physiology of non-pregnant animals and those that aborted is not the same, hence; it would be invalid to compare the two. Rae et al (2002) found that undernutrition in pregnant sheep results in low plasma T3. The viability of neonatal kids contributed to reproductive wastage in the present study and according to Robinson (1990) there is a positive correlation between neonatal survival and plasma T3 and T4 concentrations. In the present study thyroid hormones of kids were not measured. However, Rae et al (2002) found that foetal T3 and T4 concentrations were low in response to maternal undernutrition which may affect gonadal development of offsprings.


The results of cortisol concentrations cast doubts to its direct involvement in reproductive wastage. Manalu et al (1997) found no difference in average serum cortisol level of aborted, single and twin bearing does. In addition, Manalu and Sumaryadi (1999) reported no relation between cortisol concentrations during pregnancy with lamb birth weight. In the present study birth weights in the two groups were similar thus maternal serum cortisol may not have contributed to reproductive wastage or kid viability. Romero-R et al (1998) found that maternal cortisol concentration for normal delivering goats to be 35.5nmol/l at peripartum, which is 21.5 and 41.9% higher than cortisol levels of S and C animals of the present study respectively. Those animals that aborted were found to have even higher values of cortisol at the time of abortion leading the authors to conclude that cortisol was associated with abortion.


Values of total protein in the present study were similar, but at the lower end of the normal range for goats. Although it has low affinity for thyroid hormones, albumin has high binding capacity due to its high concentration in plasma (Cunningham 1997). In the present study, the difference in albumin, albeit in small quantities, may have contributed to a significant difference in thyroid hormones between the two groups. Blood minerals did not contribute directly to differences in reproductive wastage. Gray et al (1990) reported calcium levels of supplemented goats that were similar to the value of S animals in the present study. Phosphorus was found to be higher while copper to be lower than values obtained by Gray et al (1990). Urea levels were found to be similar to values for goats in Botswana (Gray et al 1990). Protein content of pasture for foraging goats during periods similar to those of animals in the present study was reported by APRU (1983/4) to be 12g/kg. High protein in browse diet may have resulted in high serum urea. In addition, BCS of C animals were lower than those of S, indicating that animals’ nutrient requirements were partly met through mobilization of body reserves. Pambu-Gollah et al (2000) found that dry season kidding goats in South Africa were not able to maintain glucose homeostasis during pregnancy but their plasma urea levels were elevated during the last month of pregnancy.


In the present study, cholesterol level was higher in S group but it is not clear how the trend would have progressed over time. This is because according to Kaneko (1989), the net effect of thyroid hormones on cholesterol metabolism is to increase the rate of its catabolism by the liver, thereby lowering cholesterol. Even though triglyceride levels were similar between the two groups, C animals were under metabolic stress, which was consistent with their lower body condition at two weeks prior to parturition and at parturition. Therefore, the lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in C animals are consistent with the underlying negative energy balance of these animals.





The summary of this paper was presented at an International Conference of the British Society of Animal Science, University of York. England. [Madibela O R and Segwagwe B E V (2003) Nutritional effects on maternal blood metabolites and on outcome of pregnancy of dry season kidding Tswana goats. Paper No 83]


The authors would like to thank National Veterinary Laboratory for their technical input and A. Human (University of Pretoria, SA) for hormonal analysis. Prof. J J Robinson (Scottish School of Agriculture, Aberdeen, Scotland) is recognized for comments on the initial draft of this manuscript. This study was funded by Botswana’s Ministry of Agriculture.



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Received 11 November 2007; Accepted 18 January 2008; Published 4 April 2008

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