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Posted: 08/08/2023
Ewes and Does in a field

The Art of Breeding: Essential Insights for Successful Lambing & Kidding

A successful season in raising livestock is always a result of diligent preparation. Whether that’s the change of weather, weaning, or welcoming new animals, ensuring your facilities and your livestock are ready for the next stage of production will set apart seasoned experts from beginners. Breeding season is no exception, and with it just around the corner, now is the time to make sure your herd/flock is healthy and ready to be bred. We’ll touch on what all that might entail, and how you can turn to PBS Animal Health for just about everything you need.

Steps to Prepare for Breeding Season

Prior to breeding, producers like to understand their animals’ parasite loads, hoof issues or other hurdles that can hinder conception or negatively impact the pregnancy. Taking care of these problems now will help keep animals in their best shape and ready to be bred when the time comes.

  1. Deworming: Do you have animals with high fecal egg counts? The USDA says that internal parasites with sheep are one of the most-costly diseases producers deal with. But when it comes to breeding, these parasites can negatively impact fertility and conception rates along with milk production and weaning weights. Put a stop to internal parasites before the breeding season begins.
  2. Vaccinations: Experts often call for vaccines based on each production stage. For breeding stock including does, ewes, bucks and rams 30-60 days before breeding, certain vaccines can help prevent late-term abortions, chlamydia, eight clostridial diseases, and more. Because each livestock operation is unique, producers should always consult with their trusted veterinarian before starting any vaccine protocol. View expert-created vaccine schedules for recommended and optional vaccines and the diseases they help prevent.
  3. Hoof Care: Sore hooves can make does and ewes less active, translating into lower feed intake, reduced milk production and a decline of estrous displays. Trim long or damaged hooves, and remove dirt and mud to ensure the comfort of your breeding stock prior to the added weight gain and stress pregnancy will bring.
  4. Prepare Your Supplies: Now is the time to check inventory and review our Lambing Checklist and/or Kidding Checklist to stock up so you aren’t caught off guard when babies start hitting the ground in a few months. Keep in mind you will also need to register for a flock or premise ID with the USDA to order your scrapies tags. Learn more about that here.

Body Condition Scoring for Goats and Sheep

Another important preparation for breeding season is body condition scoring (BCS). This involves evaluating does and ewes to make sure they aren’t too thin or too fat, and helps producers better understand their likelihood of conceiving and having a non-complicated delivery come spring. When they’re too thin, if they do conceive, they run the risk of low weaning weights. Meanwhile, the over-conditioned animals are more likely to experience dystocia during lambing or kidding.

To score the does and ewes, simply feel the amount of fat cover on each animal’s backbone, ribs, and loin. Rate them on a scale from 1-5 (1 = emaciated and 5 = obese). Animals that are in good condition for breeding will score in the 2.5-3 range, and the others may require dietary adjustments to ready them for breeding. Look for a bit of a higher range on bucks and rams around 3-3.5.

What Month is Best to Breed Sheep?

Does and Ewes are often bred in late summer and early fall. They tend to be more fertile in the fall months (September through November) thanks to hormonal changes that occur as the days get shorter. Depending on their breed, kids and lambs can usually start breeding after 6-9 months of age if they’ve reached around 70% of their mature body weight. Starting too soon can impact an animal’s breeding lifespan and milk production, but overfeeding can backfire as well. Though these animals can breed throughout their lives, experts don’t recommend breeding past 8-10 years of age because delivery can be taxing on older animals. Some varieties breed multiple times per year, but once per year is pretty typical as it allows time to take proper care of the does and ewes between pregnancies.

Signs of Estrus

Estrus cycles last approximately 18 to 22 days for does (with estrus display for 24 to 48 hours) and 14 to 20 days for ewes (with estrus display for 24 to 36 hours). Look for some of these common signs of estrus to know if your does and ewes are ready to breed:

  • seeking out a buck/ram
  • increased vocalization
  • restless behavior
  • frequent urination
  • mounting (even other females)
A swollen vulva with mucus present is also a very clear sign that the animal is ready to breed. The estrus mucus will be clear early on and gets thicker and more opaque later in estrus. Also, it can help to have bucks or rams in neighboring pens to kickstart the cycle and recognize these signs.

Estrus Cycle Timing for Easier Lambing

Watching for signs of estrus in multiple animals, ensuring the ram is present, and recording the exact breeding date is a lot to manage, especially when the animals are on varying cycles. When all the sheep are on the same estrus cycle, gestation and lambing timelines align, too. The Eazi-Breed CIDR for Sheep (and the corresponding applicator) works to better synchronize your operation with a convenient and effective system that induces estrus. Simply administer 1 insert per ewe for 5 days, and estrus generally occurs within 1-3 days after removal. This product can be used for artificial insemination or natural service.

If all the ewes are in sync with CIDRs, the next step is recording exact breeding dates for multiple animals. That’s why this marking harness and crayon are breeding season must-haves. The heavy-duty nylon harness gets worn by the male and marks the female after she’s been serviced. The harness securely holds the crayon between the male’s forelegs and leaves a mark when he mounts.

Gestation for Sheep and Goats Chart

Get Your Herd/Flock Healthy and Ready to be Bred

Preparing your does and ewes for the breeding season with deworming, hoof care, vaccines and other animal health measures can set you on the course toward successful kidding and lambing come spring. Be ready and stay stocked with all the goat and sheep care supplies you need from PBS Animal Health.

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