Vitamin E concentrations in dried pastures, stubble and most grains are below the recommended requirement of 10-25 mg/kg dry matter (DM). Sheep grazing in an environment when dry pastures and cereal crop stubbles are their primary source of nutrients for a few months have a high risk of developing vitamin E deficiency. If the low vitamin E status coincides with late gestation, the neonate is likely to have a deficiency of vitamin E. Some of the consequences of this are well known, with nutritional myopathy (with high mortality) a risk in young growing sheep unless vitamin E supplements are provided. Vitamin E plays an important role in the management of oxidative stress. Sperm are subject to oxidative damage due to high metabolic rate and high concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids in their membranes. Oxidative stress may also compromise follicular development and ovarian activity. Vitamin E is also involved with improvement in immune response. For these reasons, vitamin E status is important for reproductive efficiency in both males and females and in the survival of lambs and weaners. In addition, vitamin E deficiency is potentially exacerbated by a lack of other nutrients involved in the management of oxidative stress and immune function, such as selenium (Se) and sulfur amino acids. A Se concentration of 0.1 mg/kg DM in feedstuffs is required to maintain immune competency in sheep. In considering possible consequences for reproduction, further investigation is justified into: (i) effects of low vitamin E, in combination with low levels of other natural antioxidants, on the quality and quantity of sperm produced before and during mating; (ii) follicle development, fertilisation and embryonic mortality in Se-supplemented ewes; (iii) assessment of supplementing formulated antioxidants to rams and ewes during the mating season; (iv) managing oxidative stress in the newborn - consequences of large doses of vitamin E to ewes before parturition to boost lamb reserves; (v) potential benefits to lamb survival through boosting maternal innate immunity; (vi) choices for boosting antioxidant and immune function in ewes and lambs through 'immune pack' nutrient options that may target nutrients lacking in dry grass pastures; (vii) the potential role of heat stress in modifying the requirements for, and responses to, vitamin E in extensive grazing systems. © CSIRO 2014.
Liu, S., Masters, D., Ferguson, M. B., & Thompson, A. N. (2014). Vitamin E status and reproduction in sheep: Potential implications for Australian sheep production. Animal Production Science, 54(6), 694-714. https://doi.org/10.1071/AN13243