School of Animal Biology




Travis Murray

Phone: (+61 8) 6488 2976
Fax: (+61 8) 6488 1040

Start date

Feb 2005

Submission date

Feb 2008


Travis Murray

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Examining the commercial potential of selection on temperament in dairy ewes


Oxytocin, which causes milk ejection in sheep, is inhibited by stress through the release of adrenaline. If producers could limit the amount of stress suffered by ewes, or select sheep that are not easily stressed, they might complete milk ejection and produce more milk with a significantly higher fat content. The selection of ewes with calmer temperaments than their flockmates might suffer less stress and therefore provide this opportunity. Such animals might also behave more suitably in a milking environment and be easier to handle. Researchers at The University of Western Australia have developed the “isolation box test” to evaluate temperament in sheep. This test could have further applications and be capable of providing a method to select sheep that are suitable for milking.

Why my research is important

The ability to select dairy ewes for improved milk ejection is important because the release of oxytocin - and hence the milk ejection reflex - is not stimulated by machine milking in a large number of ewes.

The behaviour of the ewe while milking is also important because milking efficiency is a vital component of a successful dairy operation. Temperament selection may provide a means of removing ewes from the flock before they distress other sheep, harm milking staff and slow down productivity.

Through this project I hope to identify production and management benefits that sheep of calmer temperament bring to a milking facility and help to integrate the use of temperament testing into the selection of dairy ewes. This understanding should contribute to establishing a commercially successful sheep milking industry in Australia.


  • Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation
  • UWA School of Animal Biology