An investigation was conducted to compare late embryonic losses in ewe lambs and ewes and to determine the effect of inducing embryonic mortality on day 15 of pregnancy on reproductive function in ewe lambs. Ovulation rate and embryo survival were determined, at 15 and 30 days after mating, in a total of 83 ewe lambs and 67 ewes. Ovulation rate was lower, at spontaneous oestrus, in ewe lambs (1·07) than in ewes (1·25; P < 0·05). There was no difference in embryo survival at day 15, as 79% of ewe lambs and 80% of ewes contained expanded conceptuses. However, embryo survival was lower in ewe lambs (69%) than ewes (88%) at day 30 (P < 0·05). Embryonic mortality was induced in an additional 18 ewe lambs with an intrauterine injection of colchicine on day 15 post mating. Four of these animals had normal length oestrous cycles, six had inter-oestrus intervals ranging from 22 to 35 days and eight did not return to oestrus. Overall, the results of this study demonstrate that low ovulation rate and late embryonic losses make a significant contribution to subfertility in ewe lambs. Moreover, conceptus death is associated with luteal persistence, which may reduce reproductive performance by preventing remating.